Okamejei pita


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Okamejei pita
Species Authority: (Fricke & Al-Hassan, 1995)
Common Name/s:
English Pita Skate
Raja pita Fricke & Al-Hassan, 1995
Taxonomic Notes: This is the only species of Rajid known to occur in The Gulf. A key to distinguish it from other known species of northern Indian Ocean species is included in the describing paper (Fricke and Al-Hassan 1995). The holotype is in Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart Museum.

Based on the original description O. pita is a valid species, quite different from O. powelli, O. philippi and O. heemstrai of the Indian Ocean. (L.J.V. Compagno pers. comm. to A. Moore 14th May 2007).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered B1ab(iii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2009
Date Assessed: 2008-12-01
Assessor/s: Moore, A. & Jawad, L.A.
Reviewer/s: Valenti, S.V., Gibson, C. (Shark Red List Authority) & Pollock, C.M. (IUCN Red List Unit)
The Pita Skate (Okamejei pita) is known only from a single confirmed specimen recorded from the northernmost corner of the Persian/Arabian Gulf. The species' distribution probably is limited to mud bottoms along the Iraqi and part of the Iranian coast of the Gulf, possibly including Kuwaiti waters. No specific information is available on the species? population size, status or trends, however the available evidence indicates that it is at the least, uncommon. Virtually nothing is known of its biology. Longline, gargoor (baited mesh cage trap), hadra (intertidal stake-net trap), and trawl fisheries all operate in the area. Bycatch levels are unknown but the species is likely discarded if captured, as local Shia muslims in southern Iraq do not consume elasmobranch fish. Other anthropogenic impacts may be significant, and hydrocarbon pollution, habitat loss and degradation, deteriorating water quality through chemical or biotic contamination and destructive fishing practices may all affect this species. The IUCN Red List Guidelines state that if a taxon is only known from its type locality and any significant threats can be identified, then Critically Endangered under the B and C criteria may be appropriate. Although species-specific surveys have not been performed, scientific and fisheries surveys work conducted prior to the 1980s failed to record the species. Given that this species is only known from the type locality and faces significant threats through bycatch in fisheries, habitat destruction and pollution (a continuing decline in area, extent and quality of habitat) it is assessed as Critically Endangered B1a(iii). If the species is found elsewhere in the future, this assessment may need to be revisited.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Pita Skate (Okamejei pita) is a western Indian Ocean species. The only known confirmed specimen was recorded from the northernmost corner of the Persian/Arabian Gulf at Fao, Iraq (29°54?N; 48°25'E). Fricke and Al-Hassan (1995) note that distribution is probably limited to mud bottoms along the Iraqi and part of the Iranian coast of the Gulf, possibly including Kuwaiti waters.
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – western
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Although species-specific surveys have not been performed (this would be unfeasible based on the apparent rarity of the species), there was certainly survey/fisheries work done in Iraqi waters prior to conflict in the 1980s. Blegvad (1944) trawled numerous stations along the Iranian coastline including near Iraq; and there are also several Iraqi studies/checklists in the Khor Zubair, which have not recorded this species. Military conflict and tensions since the 1980s has made further scientific collection within the species? known range extremely difficult and no specific information is available on population size, status or trends. However, based on the available evidence of only one confirmed specimen, it is likely that this species is, at the least, uncommon.
Population Trend: Unknown

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The Pita Skate is known only from one female specimen (46 cm total length), collected in March 1992 by a trawler over a mud bottom, in water not deeper than 15 m (Fricke and Al-Hassan 1995). The specimen did not contain any egg cases. Like other skates, this species is presumably oviparous (Dulvy and Reynolds 1997). No other information is available on biology.
Systems: Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Levels of fishing-related mortality are unknown and overfishing and illegal fishing occurs in this region. The main fishing methods used in the area in which this species was captured are longline, driftnet, gargoor (baited mesh cage trap), hadra (intertidal stake-net trap), and trawl (Jawad 2006). For religious reasons local Shia muslins in southern Iraq do not consume elasmobranch fishes, and hence this species is likely discarded if captured.

Fishing pressure is increasing within the area where this species was collected. Since 2003, Iraqi fisheries have been expanding southwards, particularly along the east coast of Bubiyan and Warba Islands and are also apparently operating illegally in the waters of Kuwait and, to a lesser extent, the Islamic Republic of Iran (Morgan 2006). These expanding trawl and gillnet fisheries are totally unregulated. As a result of this expansion, it is believed that both fishing effort and landings of marine fish species into Iraq (mainly Basrah and Umm Qasr) have increased significantly during the latter part of 2003 and 2004 (Morgan 2006). Landings have probably returned to high values of about 12,000?13,000 tonnes seen in the late 1990s, but no detailed data are available (Morgan 2006).

Non-fishing anthropogenic impacts may be significant. Extensive damming of the Tigris-Euphrates river system in Turkey and the drainage of the Iraqi marshes during the 1990s are likely to have had implications for the Pita Skate's habitat. Rapid coastal development of previously pristine and uninhabited areas, such as Bubiyan Island in Kuwait, may also have impacts.

Other known or potential sources of anthropogenic threat impacting the area are habitat loss, degradation, and deteriorating water quality (Al-Saadi and Arndt 1973, Hussain et al. 2001, Hussain et al. 1999), including: destructive fishing practices, hydrocarbon pollution of sediment/water (Douabul 1984, Abaychi and Al-Saad 1988, Al-Saad 1990, Al-Saad 1995, Al-Saad et al. 1995, Al-Saad et al. 1996, Al-Saad and Altimari 1993, DouAbul et al. 1987), and radiological, chemical or biotic contamination (Carroll 2005, Birdlife International 2006).

In addition, this species may have intrinsic factors that make it more vulnerable to depletion, such as a restricted range and low abundance. Research is required to determine to what extent these factors may threaten the species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There are no known conservation measures for this species. The apparently low abundance of this species is unlikely to facilitate targeted research. However, recording and reporting of any specimens of rajids in the Gulf is urgently required.

Formal education and awareness programs, especially for the illiterate people in the rural areas, and capacity-building and training at tertiary levels to facilitate data collection would benefit this species and other poorly known elasmobranchs in the region.

Research is needed on the taxonomy, population and range, biology and ecology, habitat status, threats, uses and harvest levels, conservation measures, and monitoring. Data are very limited or do not exist for most of the marine fish species in the region, and only patchy information exists for a number of common and commercial species usually chosen for study.

No protected areas are recognised yet in Iraq. The idea of protected areas is new to Iraqis and a well established education program is required before further steps can be taken to establish such areas.

Bibliography [top]

Abaychi, J. and Al-Saad, H.T. 1988. Trace elements in fish from the Arabian Gulf and the Shatt al-Arab River, Iraq. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 40(2): 226-232.

Al-Saad, H.T. 1990. Hydrocarbon residues in fishes from Khor Al-Zubair, north west Arabian Gulf. Marina Mesopotamica 5(1): 81-88.

Al-Saad, H.T. 1995. Distribution and sources of hydrocarbons in Shatt Al-Arab estuary and north-west Arabian Gulf. Ph.D. thesis. University of Basrah.

Al-Saad, H.T., Abaychi, J.K. and Shamshoom, S.M. 1995. Hydrocarbons in the waters and sediments of Shatt Al-Arab Estuary and NW Arabian Gulf. Marina Mesopotamica 10(2): 393-394.

Al-Saad, H.T., Al-Kafaji, B.Y. and Sultan, A.A.R. 1996. Distribution of trace metals in water, sediments and biota samples from Shatt Al-Arab Estuary. Marina Mesopotamica 11(1): 63-78.

Al-Saad, H.T. and Altimari, A.A. 1993. Sources of hydrocarbons and fatty-acids in sediments from Hor-al-Hammar marsh, Shatt-al-Arab, and north-west Arabian Gulf. Marine Pollution Bulletin 26(10): 559-564.

Al-Saadi, H.A. and Arndt, E.A. 1973. Some investigations about the hydrographical situation in the lower reaches of Shatt Al-Arab and the Arabian Gulf. Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Universität Rostock Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche 22(10): 1169-1174.

Birdlife International. 2006. Threats to the environment posed by war in Iraq. Available at: http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/sayno/birdlife.html.

Blegvad, H. and Løppenthin, B. 1944. Fishes of the Iranian Gulf. Einar Munksgaard, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Carroll, R. 2005. Garden of Eden dying of poison.

Douabul, A.A.Z. 1984. Petroleum residues in the waters of Shatt al-Arab River and North West Region of the Arabian Gulf. Env Inter 10: 265-267.

DouAbul, A.A.Z., Al-Saad, H.T., Al-Obaidy, S.Z. and Al-Rekabi, H.N. 1987. Residues of organochlorine pesticides in fish from the Arabian Gulf. Water, Air and Soil Pollution 35(1-2): 187-194.

Dulvy, N.K. and Reynolds, J.D. 1997. Evolutionary transitions among egg-laying, live-bearing and maternal inputs in sharks and rays. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences 264: 1309-1315.

Fricke, R. and Al-Hassan, L.A.J. 1995. Raja pita, a new species of skate from the Arabian/Persian Gulf (Elasmobranchii: Rajiformes). Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde, Serie A (Biologie) 529: 1-8.

Hussain, N. A., Al-Manssory, F. Y. and Al-Hello, A. A. 2001.. Some chemical characteristics of Shatt Al-Arab estuary. Marina Mesopotamica 16((2):): 311-329. In Arabic.

Hussain, N. A., Mohamed, A. R. M. and Ali, T. S. 1999.. The seasonal formation of thermocline, halocline and water masses in the Iraqi marine waters. Marina Mesopotamica, 14((2):): 299-312.

IUCN. 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2009.2). Available at: www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 3 November 2009).

Jawad, L. 2006. Fishing Gear and Methods of the Lower Mesopotamian Plain with Reference to Fishing Management. Marina Mesopotamica 1(1): 1-39.

Morgan, G. 2006.. Country Review: Iraq. In: In: De Young, C. (ed.). (ed.), Review of the state of world marine capture fisheries management: Indian Ocean., pp. 458p.. FAO., Rome.

Rezai, H. and Savari, A. 2004. Observation on reef fishes in the coastal waters of some Iranian Islands in the Persian Gulf. Zoology in the Middle East 31: 67-75.

Citation: Moore, A. & Jawad, L.A. 2009. Okamejei pita. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 18 April 2014.
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