Species Profile

Winter Skate Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population

Scientific Name: Leucoraja ocellata
Other/Previous Names: Winter Skate (Southern Gulf population)
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2015
Last COSEWIC Designation: Non-active
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

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Related Species

Winter Skate ( Gulf of St. Lawrence population ) Endangered No Status

Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Winter Skate


The winter skate is an ocean ground dwelling marine fish with a flattened body, large wing-like fins, a long slender tail, a rounded snout and spots on its back. Its back varies in color from pale brown to dark brown with black spots and one or more larger white spots located near the rear corner of each pectoral fin. These spots help to distinguish it from other skates. Its other side, the belly, is white. The winter skate is one of the largest species of skates in Atlantic Canada, reaching lengths of upwards of 110 cm. However, in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, winter skate mature and grow to considerably smaller sizes than anywhere else in their range. For example, female winter skate are mature by 42 cm in the southern Gulf, but 50% of winter skate are mature at 75 cm on the eastern Scotian Shelf. (Updated 2017/03/07)



The winter skate is mostly found on sandy or gravelly bottoms, usually in depths less than 110 metres, although they have been caught at depths approaching 400 metres. In the Southern Gulf, winter skate occupy shallow inshore areas in summer to early autumn, dispersing broadly on the eastern Scotian shelf during winter. Winter skate have been reported in waters ranging between -1.2°and 19° C. Winter skate in the Southern Gulf experience temperatures on the upper end of this range during the summer due to their coastal distribution. (Updated 2017/03/07)



Winter skate in the southern Gulf mature at a length of about 42 cm. This is much smaller than the length at maturity reported for winter skate elsewhere (75 cm). Age and growth data are not available for winter skate in the Gulf. Based on growth rates of little skate, which mature at about the same size as winter skate in the Gulf, a length at maturity of 42 cm would correspond to an age of 6 yr.


The winter skate’s slow population growth rate is caused by its delayed age at maturity, and low fecundity. Abundance of mature individuals in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is at a historically low level, averaging 50,000 adults in surveys conducted over the past five years (2009-2013). Similar surveys completed from 1971-1975 averaged 3,160,000 adults. There is no directed fishery for winter skate in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Declining population numbers are attributed to natural mortality, such as predation, in conjunction with bycatch. (Updated 2017/03/07)




PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

7 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the winter skate Leucoraja ocellata in Canada (2005)

    Winter skate (Leucoraja ocellata Mitchill 1815), also known as the big or eyed skate, are recognized by a flattened disc shape, greatly enlarged wing-like fins, and long tail. The upper surface is usually light to dark brown with a large white eyespot near the rear corner of the pectoral fins, which helps distinguish them from other species of skate.

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Winter Skate (2005)

    The species possesses life history characteristics that increase vulnerability to exploitation, that reduce rate of recovery, and that increase the risk of extinction. These characteristics include delayed age at maturity, long generation time, low fecundity, and consequently slow population growth rate. Narrow latitudinal ranges and a high degree of endemicity have been documented for the skate family worldwide. This population appears to have a restricted distribution, based on distributional maps of fisheries-independent survey catches. Individuals from this population mature at a significantly smaller size than those found elsewhere in Canadian waters. Abundance of mature individuals in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is estimated to have declined 98% since the early 1970s, and is now at a historically low level. The probable cause of decline is an unsustainable rate at which they were captured as bycatch in fisheries directed at other groundfish species.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2009)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments conducted pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act [fish] (2010)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27(1) and (1.1) of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents