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A Little Love for Cownose Rays?

DNR considers protections from bowfishers

Like osprey, cownose rays have abandoned Chesapeake Country for warmer climates. But they’ll be back late spring, finning through our waters to eat, mate and give birth. Baby rays are born, not hatched like their marine cousins, the skates.
    Does their proliferation endanger the recovery of our native oyster, both in the wild and in aquaculture operations?
    That’s been their rep in recent years, for favorite ray foods are oysters and clams.
    “Bay watermen and oyster farmers contend the creatures are threatening their livelihoods,” Rona Kobell reports for the Bay Journal. “An oft-cited 2007 study in the prestigious journal Science said the Atlantic ray population had ballooned because of declines in sharks, their chief predators. In the Bay, hordes of rays were blamed for depleting Bay oysters.”
    How to control them?
    Rays aren’t a high prestige catch in the Chesapeake. Snagged on a line, they give anglers a good fight. But then what are you going to do with a ray? Neither ray nor skate does much as a food fish in America, though both are considered fine fare in France.
    Bowfishers, on the other hand, have made rays a prime target, with tournaments highly popular.
    So popular that, Kobell writes, “biologists have grown concerned about the impacts of such unlimited carnage, noting that rays produce one pup a year and are slow to mature.
    “In the spring of 2015, animal rights groups began filming the tournaments to publicize the slaughter of rays, attracting local television coverage. The groups also began to pressure the governors of both states to stop the tournaments.
    “Advocates for protecting rays gained support earlier this year, when a new study contradicted the 2007 one and found they are not to blame for declines in oyster populations.”
    Now the kite-shaped creatures may be getting a little love.
    “Maryland Department of Natural Resources last month notified fishing groups that it was considering declaring the cownose ray a species “in need of conservation” and setting some first-ever harvest limits to protect them,” Kobell writes. “Last week, DNR called — quietly — for public comment on whether to place a limited ban on the controversial staging of bowfishing tournaments to slaughter the rays.
    What will happen next? That’s a story in progress.