Its facial expressions looks rather smiley, its wings are expansive and apparently quite tasty, but many people likely know little of the skate fish.
John Hickey of O’Donnell’s, St. Mary’s Bay, has been fishing skate for years, but he’s never tasted them.
“Never. I wouldn’t try it,” he said.
But Ben Shannahan of The Fish Depot in St. John’s had meat from the fish’s wings decades ago while working on draggers and said it is a treat.
When asked by The Telegram about skate, Shannahan decided to try to source them for his store, as he’s done well selling alligator meat on a whim.
More than 30 years ago when Shannahan worked on draggers, skate — taken as bycatch — was either thrown over the side or sometimes sold as if it were scallops.
“We’d get those skates with big old wings on them, take a copper pipe and punch down through the skate wings,” he recalled.
The resulting product resembled a scallop and “99 per cent of people wouldn’t know what they were,” the wing was that flavourful, Shannahan said.
“It’s a nice hunk of fish. … I guarantee you one thing: they were good tasting,” he said.
And he said there could be a market for his store — people were reluctant to try the alligator meat he brought in from Louisiana in the beginning, but now he’s selling quite a bit of it.
The skate landed by Hickey and his son winds up in France.
‘Better than no work’
It’s a little-known fishery, one that opened for mobile gear in 3Ps April 2. It’s not exactly lucrative either.
According to the provincial department of Fisheries, In 2011, processing plants in Newfoundland and Labrador produced about 160 tonnes of skate products, mostly wings.
Most of the skate harvested off Newfoundland and Labrador is thorny skate with a small amount of smooth skate. The main fishery occurs off the south coast of the island in the 3Ps area.
Last year, skate landings in the province were just less than 600 tonnes with a landed value of about $200,000, so it’s pretty much a fringe fishery.
But for Hickey, it’s another species that adds to the bottom line.
“It’s better than no work,” said Hickey, who has fished it off and on.
Dave Coffin, resource manager for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the skate is a fairly wide-ranging species from Baffin Island to South Carolina.
In this province, it’s fished in 3LNO, which includes the Grand Banks managed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization and 3Ps off the south coast, which is managed by the Canadian government.
According to DFO, the skate can grow to a metre in length.
Thorny skate has 11-19 large thorns from the neck region on the midline of its back to the first dorsal fin near the end of its tail. While these thorns are not venomous, they may cause injury to a person if stepped on or picked up.
Thorny Skates eat a variety of small invertebrates when the skate is small, then consume whatever fish — like sand lance, sculpins and even other skate — and larger invertebrates — like sea urchins, sand dollars and crabs — when the skate grows larger.
“I’m not sure how much the public would know about skate. Within the fishing sector they are very aware of it,” Coffin said.
In 2011 in 3Ps, only 388 tonnes of the 1,050-tonne quota was taken, likely due to price. The average price per kilogram was 32 cent landed.
According to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service website, one 100-gram serving of skate contains 90 calories, one gram of fat and 20 grams of protein.
Here’s a recipe for those who find some skate to try.
Rai au Beurre Noir
1 lb skate wings
1/3 cup cider or wine vinegar
1/4 cup butter
3 tbsp capers or parsley, chopped
In a large saucepan, add 50 ml vinegar and 5 ml salt to 1 litre water. Bring to a boil. Add wings and poach. Place in serving dish. Keep warm. In a small saucepan, heat butter until golden brown. Add rest of vinegar and capers. Blend well. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sauce over fish.