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Rays Gobbled Up in "Endangered Species Soup"

Manta raysA new report describes how manta rays are being decimated worldwide because of a growing market in selling their gills to Chinese markets for their alleged medicinal value.

 “Endangered species soup,” was how one conservationist described it.

The report, by a nonprofit organization called Shark Savers, describes what makes rays -– in the Pacific Ocean or here in the Chesapeake Bay -- so vulnerable to overharvesting:  This primitive shark-like creatures with their kite-shaped bodies reproduce very slowly, with each female only giving birth to a few pups.   Killing manta rays (and their cousins, mobula rays) for their gills is a double tragedy, because there is no evidence that their soup actually has any medicinal value, and because rays are more valuable left in the wild. They are not only ecologically valuable, but also economically valuable, because their beauty is attractive to divers, and helps boost the diving and ecotourism industries, according to the Shark Savers report.

Here in the Chesapeake Bay, our dominant ray species -– the cownose ray, also called the “Chesapeake Stingray” -– is not endangered.  Indeed, cownose rays are so populous that some oyster farmers and others have been trying to encourage a local market for fishermen to catch them, because cownose rays eat oysters and can disrupt oyster restoration projects.  “Eat a ray, save the Bay,” say some advocates of reducing cownose ray populations.

But aggressive targeting of cownose rays could quickly decimate local ray populations, just as the market for manta ray gills for “endangered species soup” has killed off rays in the Pacific. 

Caution and careful scientific study are needed before any widespread harvesting of cownose rays begins.

To learn more about the “Chesapeake stingrays,” read this article on the subject on page 15 of CBF's “Save the Bay” magazine.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

(Photo at top of manta rays by Mary O'Malley/Shark Savers) 








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Great article in "Save the Bay" magazine. It was interesting to learn about both sides of the issue, and managers' work to protect both the fisheries and the rays.

Restoring the Chesapeake Bay oyster population is an important ecological and economic goal. Protecting the cownose ray is a apecies conservation obligation. The two efforts should not be in conflict, and a closely monitored commercial fishery for the cownose could be vital. The challenge is the staffing and cost of any monitoring activity to essentially protect the cownose species.

Perhaps an initial population inventory and monitoring activity could be a grant project that could help answer the benefits and dangers associated with a ongoing harvesting of the cownose ray by bay fishermen. Don't know if there is even a Sea Grant program any longer and if so whether it would support such and effort. Suggest the CBF look into that possibility.

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