“Cownose Rays” by Dorothy Birch
Original Work by Author.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is calling on the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office (NCBO), Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the state of Virginia to put a stop to the cruel and archaic bow-hunting tournaments targeting pregnant cownose rays for sport in the waters of Chesapeake Bay.

Grassroots groups have recently released undercover footage showing the brutality of one of these tournaments, “Battle of the Rays,” held on June 13 near Mechanicsville, MD. The video shows hunters shooting rays with arrows and using hooks to haul the injured animals up to the side of the boats, where they are bludgeoned with bats or mallets to stop their thrashing. Many, though, are still alive when piled onto other rays onboard.

Pregnant rays, who migrate to Chesapeake waters each year to give birth to their pups, are specifically sought in these tournaments that are held annually in Maryland and Virginia because the heaviest ray will be the “winning catch” at weigh-in. The appalling recent video even captured a hunter seemingly attempting to insert a baby ray back into the body of its dead mother to increase her weight. Many of the dead rays are simply dumped back into the ocean after being weighed.

Some fishermen advocate for the killing of these majestic rays because they eat oysters. The state of Virginia has even advocated for a commercial ray fishery to “control” their numbers, using the misleading slogan “Save the Bay, Eat a Ray.” Sea Shepherd has seen this misguided reasoning used elsewhere to justify the slaughter of marine species with cruel and ineffective culls – for example, along the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington, cormorants and California sea lions are harassed and killed by those states for the “crime” of eating a tiny percentage of salmon to survive (while fisheries are allowed to take up to 17% of the yearly salmon run).

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has emphasized that these bow-hunting tournaments are legal, but the DNR’s own statement also confirms why they must be ended. “There is currently very little scientific data available on the cownose ray population in the Chesapeake Bay and given this limited information, the DNR cannot put a management plan in place at the state level.”

Based on the DNR’s own findings, it is time that the Department take the prudent step of stopping this unsustainable sportfishing targeting pregnant rays given the dearth of information as to status of their current population.

Researchers caution that cownose rays, much like sharks, do not reach sexual maturity until late in age and give birth to only one pup at a time, thus the species is left highly vulnerable to overfishing, also much like sharks. The NCBO states, “Some people have suggested that a commercial fishery for cownose rays should be started so that people can eat this shellfish predator, instead of it eating oysters. But because cownose ray populations grow slowly, we need to make decisions very carefully. Effects from these decisions will last a long time because if the population is reduced too much, it would take a long time to recover.”

The NCBO adds that it is not in support of a commercial cownose ray fishery or other methods of reducing the population at this time. “More science is needed to determine if a sustainable fishery would be possible given the cownose ray’s biology, population numbers and distribution, and reproductive capacity. In the meantime, focus can be put on developing ways to protect oysters and other shellfish from cownose rays that do not involve removing rays from the Bay ecosystem.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Sea Shepherd is voicing our opposition to these brutal tournaments and asking our supporters to join us. Additional tournaments are scheduled this Saturday and Sunday, in Virginia and Maryland. Please use the contact information below to call for an immediate end to this cruel and senseless killing for sport:

Peyton Robertson, Director
NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office
410 Severn Avenue
Suite 207-A
Annapolis, MD 21403
Phone: (410) 267-5660
Email: Peyton.Robertson@noaa.gov

Maryland Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Avenue
Tawes State Office Building
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone (for callers in MD): 1-877-620-8367
Phone (for out-of-state callers): (410)-260-8367
Email: customerservice.dnr@maryland.gov

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401-1925
Phone: (410) 974-3901 OR 1-800-811-8336
Email form: Contact Governor Larry Hogan

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
P.O. Box 90778
Henrico, VA 23228-0778
Phone: (804) 367-1000
Email: dgifweb@dgif.virginia.gov

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: (804) 786-2211
Email form: Communicating with the Governor’s Office

More information: Cownose Rays: What Effect Are They Having?

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