Mature thorny (Amblyraja radiata), winter (Leucoraja ocellata), and smooth (Malacoraja senta) skates have declined to very low abundance in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (SGSL) and on the eastern Scotian Shelf (ESS). We used stage-structured state-space models to examine decadal patterns in mortality rates in these skates. Mortality at early life stages (embryos in egg cases, hatchlings, and (or) small juveniles) appeared to decrease between the 1970s and the 2000s. In contrast, estimated mortality rates increased for larger individuals over this period. Although potentially confounded in models with effects of any changes in juvenile growth, the estimated increases in mortality could not instead be attributed solely to changes in growth. Increases in the mortality of large individuals appeared to reflect increases in natural mortality, possibly due to predation by grey seals. Increases in natural mortality were not evident for skates on the neighbouring western Scotian Shelf, where grey seal abundance has remained lower. Even in the absence of fishing, recovery of skates is unlikely under current ecosystem conditions in the SGSL and on the ESS.
|Number of pages||16|
|Journal||Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 16 Jan 2013|