My summer memories would always include water games and a daily fishing competition with my grandfather on our little boat. I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in Thrace, an area with different cultures and flavours that have accompanied me through my life. Mixtures became the motto of my life, and becoming a chemist was the only natural thing to do. However, I soon realised that molecular biology would allow me to combine my previous experiences with my interest in the sea. I was offered a unique opportunity to work with great white sharks during my PhD studies and this has enabled me to travel and meet and collaborate with talented scientists. I have worked in six different countries on marine, freshwater and terrestrial organisms, yet I cannot remember a time when I was not organising a project involving elasmobranchs.
I returned to Greece in 2017 and was offered a position at the Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) in Nea Peramos, Kavala. The North Aegean has a wealth of natural resources, making it one of the largest fishing centres in Greece. The area is home to the second largest fishing fleet of the Aegean Sea, which accounts for more than half of the total domestic fisheries production. The FRI hosts a lively group of scientists and participates in projects that focus mainly on the collection of fisheries data and the application of traditional or modern fish-processing technologies. I continue to work on, among other things, elasmobranch conservation and ecology, particularly as there is little biological knowledge in this area. Unfortunately, the effects of a knowledge gap such as this are intensified in the Eastern Mediterranean, one of the most overfished seas, as the countries that share these waters do not always prioritise elasmobranch management and conservation strategies.
Batoids (skates and rays) have become target species in some current fisheries. They are favoured for human consumption in Greece and form the basis of many popular dishes in various parts of the country. However, most of the batoids are poorly managed due to the lack of species-specific catch and trade data. There are European bans in place that stipulate that certain batoid species should be returned to the sea if caught, yet several tonnes have been landed during the past 10 years, including some prohibited and endemic species that have not been properly assessed. The processing of their wings involves removing the outermost skin layer, which makes it impossible to recognise which species the final product belongs to. In addition, landings are usually reported under the general description ofbatosin Greece, despite EU regulations that catches should be documented at a species level. Therefore, the composition of catches remains poorly described.
For the past two years I have been collaborating with local fishermen and fishmongers and have been participating in annual surveys in order to collect data and answer important questions regarding batoid biology. The main focus of our project will be to strengthen these efforts. We also plan to use DNA barcoding techniques to promote traceability. Our goal is to inform consumers about the species that enter the supply chain, as we will directly sample processed ray fins. DNA barcoding methods have become one of the most commonly applied methods of identifying seafood species, as they can overcome difficulties of identification created by the lack of morphological features and data. Using these methods can help us to identify more accurately the species in elasmobranch catches and to create informed species composition data in the Eastern Mediterranean.
We are currently planning how this project will unfold with the support of the Save Our Seas Foundation.Although it is still in its early stages and we have much to learn,I am becoming more and more hopeful that ourresults can help to evaluate Mediterranean batoids and to shape policies aimed at improving protection for them.