Today we look at the Cuckoo Ray in the eighth of our Species Fishing and ID guides.
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Other Names: Leucoraja naevus
Description: Small to medium sized ray with a sand coloured dorsal surface with two very distinctive black and yellow marbled "eyespots" on the wings. The ventral surface is white. Cuckoo Rays have blunt snout and rounded wingtips. Many fish have a row of small thorns in front of each eye, a large triangular patch of thorns on the shoulders and several rows of thorns along the spine and tail.
Maximum Size: 75cm
Habitat: Cuckoo Rays are generally found over soft sandy or muddy sea beds.
Depth: Shallows to 300m.
Distribution: Common on the north west coast of Scotland and the Outer Isles, occasionally caught around the south west coast.
Feeding: Cuckoo Rays are opportunistic feeders and scavengers. Adult fish feed mainly on crustaceans, worms and small fish.
Biology: Male and female Cuckoo Rays mature at around 60cm long (4-5 years old). Cuckoo Rays are oviparous (egg-laying); females lay 70-150 eggs each year. Egg cases are rectangular in shape with rounded corners with long horns at each corner, eggs are 5-7cm long and 3-4cm wide. The upper horns of a Cuckoo Ray egg case are often longer than the egg case itself. Eggs are laid inshore over sandy or muddy sea beds, after 8 months fully developed Cuckoo Rays around 12cm long hatch and begin to feed actively. There is uncertainty surrounding the maximum age of Cuckoo Rays though it is thought to be around 28 years.
Caution: Cuckoo Rays have several rows of sharp thorns on their dorsal surface around the eyes and along the spine and tail. Rays also have abrasive skin and strong jaws with crushing pads.
Current Fishery: No targeted fishery in Scotland though Cuckoo Rays are often taken as bycatch in mixed trawls for human consumption. Due to its small size, Cuckoo Rays are generally not targeted commercially.
Conservation Status: Least concern. Cuckoo Rays are generally not targeted commercially and appear to have a high recruitment rate (the number of fishing surviving from egg to adult) meaning populations have remained relatively stable in some areas and are thought to be increasing in some areas of western Scotland. However, in other areas Cuckoo Ray numbers appear to have dropped significantly.
GFAC Size: 60cm.
Tagging: The minimum SSTP tagging size for Cuckoo Rays is 50cm wingspan (5.25lb). For advice on tagging rays please refer to the SSTP tagging guide here.
Targeting Cuckoo Rays in Scotland
Tackle: From the boat a 6-12lb class rod and suitable reel loaded with 20lb braid is sufficient. From the shore a 4-5oz beach rod paired with a strong multiplier or fixed spool reel loaded with 12-15lb monofilament mainline is generally suitable.
End Tackle: A single strong size 1 to 2/0 barbless hook with a 40-50lb monofilament hook length is sufficient for Cuckoo Rays. Hooks should be matched to the size of the bait used and to cope with the chance of catching other species such as Thornback, Spotted and Blonde Rays when targeting Cuckoo Rays. Popular Cuckoo Ray rigs include 2-hook flappers, pulley rigs, up ‘n’ over rigs and clipped down fixed paternosters. Clipped down rigs are particularly useful when fish are feeding at distance and a long cast is needed. From the boat a simple running ledger rig with a short hook length is sufficient and minimises tangles.
Bait: Popular baits include mackeral, squid, sandeel, prawn and peeler crab.
Tactics: Although Cuckoo Rays are relatively small, care should be taken when using light tackle as it is not uncommon to catch other species such as Thornback, Spotted and Blonde Rays when targeting Cuckoo Rays.