by Katie Jacobs
Skates belong to a group of fish called elasmobranches, which are boneless fish. The skate is a relative to sharks and rays, all belong to the order Batoidei, meaning all skates and rays. But not all rays are skates. Skates can be found from the Arctic to the Antarctic; their living space extends from shallow coastal areas to depths 9,800 feet.
The common skate can weigh up to 250 lb. with a length over nine feet. Some of the more common skates found in North America include: Little skate (Raja erinacea), Barndoor skate (Raja laevis), Winter skate (Raja ocellata), Thorney Skate (Raja radiata), and the Smooth skate (Raja senta).
Skates and rays can be quite difficult to tell apart. Both are flat and live close to the ocean floor, and share a similar diamond shape. These are the distinguishing features of a skate:
- Each pelvic fin is divided into two lobes
- Tail relatively stocky without stinging spines
- Tail usually with two small dorsal fins near its tip and a tiny caudal fin
- Many have enlarged, thorn-like scales along the midline of back and tail; enlarged scales also occur along the side of the body in some species.
- Males have rows of enlarged scales near the eyes and wingtip
Mainly bottom-dwellers, skates fed on a variety of animals including lobsters, crabs, shrimps and other small crustaceans, as well as worms, bivalve, mollusks, polychaetes, and small fish. Although all skates eat the same kind of food, different kinds of skates, for example little skates and winter skates, can share the some habitat without any serious competition, by eating food in different proportions.
In commercial fishing, a skate is of little value and is usually ground up into fishmeal, but for small scale fishing it is meaty, sold in large slabs or chunks as this rather large fish is too big to display on the counters at the markets. Unlike most fish, the skate has no true bones, instead its skeleton is made of soft cartilage. The skate is a rather inexpensive fish, so it is good value for money. It is also very meaty so there is barely anything to waste. The flesh is smooth and tasty, wonderful grilled or baked on charcoal and served with a hot tamarind dip.