A University of New England researcher has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the mortality rate of winter skates in the monkfish commercial fishery. The principal researchers, James Sulikowski, a professor in UNE’s Department of Marine Sciences, and commercial fisherman Captain Ted Platz, will investigate the mortality rate of winter skates that are exposed to sink gillnets, a fishing method that uses vertical panels of netting and is a common method to catch monkfish.

Monkfish and winter skate typically occupy the same habitat and get caught in the same nets. Monkfisherman are currently under federal regulations that limit their days at sea and restrict their catch limits, in part because of the high mortality rate of the winter skates that are discarded from their nets. Currently it’s estimated that nearly half of all winter skates caught this way die.

According to the Department of Marine Resources, 874,262 pounds of monkfish (also called American Goosefish) valued at $726,130 were harvested in Maine in 2013. That was down from 1.075 million pounds and $1.04 million in 2012. Monkfish is often described as the poor man’s lobster because of the similarity in taste.

With the grant funding, the researchers will work to get more refined estimates of mortality rate for winter skate. They will also analyze the impact of fishing conditions, handling protocols and biological characteristics like the size and sex of skate that are captured. This information will be used to improve mortality rates and help establish landing limits for different species and fishermen.

“It’s about finding a way to better manage the monkfish fishery as a whole,” Sulikowski said.

Sulikowski and his team will be providing information to the New England Fisheries Management Council and other agencies throughout the course of the two-year study in order to ensure the resources are harvested sustainably.

Jennifer Van Allen can be contacted at 791-6313 or at:

[email protected]