New England fishermen desperate for revenue are learning to love the ornery dogfish, and they’re hoping the government can help them persuade seafood eaters to do the same.
Industry groups have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy more dogfish fillets to increase industry earnings and build market demand for the abundant but low-value fish.
Last week, 19 New England lawmakers, including the U.S. senators from Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, followed the fishermen’s request with a letter saying such purchases could “bring much needed relief to an ailing industry.”
The desire to promote dogfish is a change for fishermen who have long despised the small shark, a relentless predator they say clogs nets, devours bait and drives out more valuable species, such as cod, for which New England fishermen’s landing limits this year have been cut 78 percent by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And with those and catch limits for other groundfish species cutting New England commercial fishing opportunities to the bone, fishermen say there’s potential in the plentiful dogfish.
“When life gives you lemons, you drink lemonade, right?” said Rhode Island fisherman Chris Brown.
This year, fishermen in the coastal New England states have about 24 million pounds of dogfish quota. By comparison, their Gulf of Maine cod quota is about 3.24 million pounds, after being cut 78 percent from last year.
The new push for marketing dogfish limits comes seven months after John Bullard, NOAA’s Gloucester-based Northeast regional administrator, also raised a series of proposals to open certain waters for taking dogfish without having to use their limited groundfish fishing days.
Dogfish are not managed under NOAA’s and the New England Fishery Management Council’s Amendment 16, the catch share system for members of fishing cooperatives or sectors. Bullard’s proposals, however, are still awaiting signoff from the Department of Commerce.