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Local Summer Fisheries – Dogfish

Photo Credit: Fishwatch.gov

Madi Gamble is the Ocean Conservation intern this summer at CLF.  She grew up fishing in Marblehead, MA and is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, where she studies biology and environmental science.

While dogfish aren’t a traditionally targeted fishery in New England, they are abundant summer visitors to coastal waters, estuaries, and bays in the Gulf of Maine.  Dogfish are a species of shark that live mostly on the bottom of the ocean, but can also be found higher in the water column and are common as bycatch in groundfish fisheries that use gillnet, trawling, and longline techniques. These same techniques are used in the few commercial fishing operations that target dogfish.  Because dogfish are sharks, they give birth to relatively few offspring compared to fish species, and this difference in reproductive biology must be taken into account when creating dogfish management plans.  Dogfish are generalist, opportunistic predators that feed on crustaceans, jellyfish, and smaller fish species, depending on what is available.  Dogfish caught in the small commercial fishery in New England are often shipped to Europe, where they are used in fish and chips.  Recreational fishermen casting for striped bass or bluefish often wind up hooking a dogfish, which they usually throw back.  However, dogfish have a healthy population in New England and can be delicious if prepared properly!

Dogfish landings in the United States by Year. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

In the late 1980s, the United States ramped up its commercial dogfish fishery in response to a crash in European dogfish stocks.  Larger dogfish – which tend to be female – were targeted.  Landings soared from an average of 4,300 metric tons per year between 1979 and 1988 to 27,000 metric tons in 1996.  The increased fishing pressure, as well as the disproportional removal of females, led scientists to deem New England’s dogfish stock overfished in 1998.  Trip limits and quotas were implemented, and as a result the stock was rebuilt by 2010.

The quota for the 2012 season, implemented June 21, is 20,292 metric tons, 16,191 metric tons of which constitutes the commercial quota.  The commercial fishery is currently regulated under the Spiny Dogfish Fishery Management Plan, which limits the catch quota and the amount of dogfish that can be caught during any one fishing trip.  Commercial fishermen need a permit to catch dogfish, but the recreational fishery is not regulated.

Recipe – Spiny Dogfish Shark in Tomato and Citrus

Important: Because sharks excrete urea through their skin via their circulatory system rather than through a urinary tract, dogfish must be gutted, bled, and chilled immediately after they are caught so that the urea does not remain in the fillet.


1 pound spiny dogfish shark, cut into 6 pieces
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
8 sprigs coriander
6 tablespoons pureed tomato
2 tablespoons fresh citrus (lemon or lime) juice
1 teaspoon dried red chili peppers
1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 425°F. Rub salt well onto dogfish pieces. Use a small amount of oil to coat a shallow baking dish and place dogfish in baking dish. Heat the remaining oil in a skillet and gently fry the garlic. Add the coriander, followed in a few minutes by the pureed tomato and citrus juice. Stir to mix ingredients together. Pour tomato-citrus sauce over the dogfish. Sprinkle the chili peppers over the dogfish and add water to the baking dish. Bake in a 425°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes.


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