The field of genomics—the study of an organism’s complete genetic material—holds great promise for determining the population structure of a species and for investigating how such structure and species abundance have changed over time. Only recently, however, has genomic technology become affordable and fast enough to be accessible to fisheries scientists and managers.
The Lenfest Ocean Program is supporting Dr. Gavin Naylor of the University of Florida to apply modern genomic tools to study the North Atlantic population of the thorny skate (Amblyraja radiata). The species is considered overfished in U.S. waters but has a stable population that supports a targeted fishery in European waters. While it is currently managed as a single, continuous population across the North Atlantic, some researchers suspect that there may be several thorny skate subpopulations across the species’ range.
Naylor and his team will use genomics to tease out how the thorny skate population is structured spatially in the North Atlantic and to investigate which factors may have contributed to past changes in abundance. Findings could inform the appropriate spatial scale for thorny skate management and could lead to recommendations for effective conservation strategies. The project is part of a growing field of studies that, if successful, will develop genomic tools to help fisheries managers take advantage of this increasingly accessible and useful technology.