Marine researchers are calling for international action to save the barndoor skate, which they fear could become the first salt water vertebrate to be fished to extinction. Last year, Canadian biologists Jill Casey and Ransom Myers concluded that trawlers targeting other seafood had unintentionally wiped out most of the North Atlantic's barndoors, which can grow to 1.5 meters long but reproduce slowly (Science, 31 July 1998, p. 690 ).
Now, after reaffirming the fish's plight at a technical workshop at the New England Aquarium in Boston last month, 10 scientists are calling on the U.S. and Canadian governments to ban or restrict bottom fishing in the skate's few known strongholds. They also tacitly endorsed a petition by two environmental groups to get the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to officially list the skate as endangered in U.S. waters. "Without strong measures," says Myers, "I doubt the species will survive."
Commercial fishing interests in the U.S., however, are worried about yet another move to oust them from favored fishing grounds, and are promising to fight any proposed listing. NMFS officials have at least a year to ponder the issue.