GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

August 29, 2010

Feds shut down fishermen's access to dogfish

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

The federal government has announced a decision to stop all landings of dogfish — an action widely seen as another body blow to the inshore groundfishing fleet as it struggles with limited access to preferable table food fish.

The action was taken by Patricia Kurkul, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Gloucester-based regional administrator of fisheries. And it comes after the six-month NOAA Fisheries allocation was landed in three months.

But that's a development that industry analysts attribute to the overabundance of the small schooling shark and efforts by fishermen to keep working even for a low-value, low-margin prey, while saving their small allocations of the more valuable groundfish,

Dogfish was bringing around 25 cents a pound last week, and, with a 3,000-pound daily limit, the day boats could eke out gross revenues of $750 a day while saving small allocations of high value groundfish.

Dogfish have become a core fish in the northeast groundfishery during the restoration management regimens on the high value cod, and other groundfish. Gloucester is the No. 1 dogfish port in New England.

Dogfish are found on both sides of the Atlantic and have become a major nuisance to recreational and commercial fishermen who constantly report losing prized game or food fish from hooks and gillnets to the world's most abundant shark.

Zeus Packaging Co., which operates in the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction complex, is the primary buyer of the dogfish, which have become a perverse symbol of a fisheries management system that, to many fishermen and others who work within the industry, seems driven by illogical aims.

For one thing, dogfish are by far the most abundant species to be brought up by NOAA's research nets, said Dr. Brian Rothschild, the dean emeritus of the UMass School of Marine Science and Technology.

Some 20 times as much dogfish was recorded by weight compared to the next most abundant species, redfish, he said.

"The dogfish is extremely abundant, mortality rate very low, and the great abundance of the small sharks is not typical of the ecosystem," said Rothschild. He urged reconsideration of the closure "in light of the effect of catch shares on jobs and fishery."

"This just shows the disconnect between the government, the regulators and the industry," said Larry Ciulla, president of the auction. Losing the access to dogfish while rationing small allocations of high value groundfish will have a destabilizing effect on the fishing industry, he added.

"It means a lot to everybody," said Ciulla.

"We're trying to hold the infrastructure together," he said, and despite the low value of the fish, the boats could at least keep working as long as they can catch dogfish. Most dogfish that are landed are shipped to Europe.

The catch share system that was imposed May 1 was combined with reduced allocations chosen to force rebuilding programs in overfished species by rigid deadlines written in the Magnuson-Stevens Act by Congress.

Rothschild said the 3,000-pound trip limit meant the wasting of good fish, as poundage beyond the limit are thrown back rather than used.

Because of the health of the dogfishery, the government increased the allocation from 12 million to 15 million pounds. The fishery is expected to re-open Nov. 1.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3465, or rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.