By Patrick Anderson
Scientists and now federal regulators have confirmed what local fishermen have been saying for a few years: the spiny dogfish is doing all right.
The New England Fishery Management Council has eased restrictions for catching and landing dogfish, the frequently-maligned little sharks that had been largely off limits in federal waters after being overfished in the 1990s.
The decision to increase by 200 percent the number of dogfish that can be caught in federal waters comes after an interstate commission earlier in the month increased the quota for dogfish caught in state waters by 50 percent.
Under the new rules, the quota for boats with a federal permit will go up from 4 million pounds to 12 million pounds for 2009. Each boat will now be able to catch 3,000 pounds of dogfish per trip.
Both decisions are a reaction to a recent study by federal scientists that indicated that after 10 years of protection dogfish are now plentiful and their fishery rebuilt.
"The change in rules was prompted by updated scientific advice that the spiny dogfish stock is neither overfished, nor is overfishing occurring," a statement from the New England Fishery Management Council indicated.
The continued protection of dogfish has frustrated fishermen because the sharks show up in their nets and on their lines, but have largely had to be thrown back into the water dead because of the low quota. Fishermen also contend that dogfish eat more profitable species, such as cod and haddock, depressing the already heavily regulated numbers of those species.
Charter fishermen complain that some days they are not able to set a line for tuna or striped bass because dogfish, which have healthy appetites for a wide range of foods, are swarming their boats. The sharks are called dogfish because they travel and hunt in packs.
The market for dogfish in the United States is limited, with use as food rare and demand limited to uses such as fertilizer.
But in Europe, dogfish are frequently eaten, both fried in fish and chips and smoked. Their fins are also used in Chinese shark's fin soup.
Spiny dogfish are long-living and slow-growing, making them vulnerable to overfishing. They have two spines along their backs filled with a mild venom.
Gloucester is one of the few ports on the East Coast with a facility for processing dogfish. The only other Massachusetts processor is in New Bedford.
Patrick Anderson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.