September 9, 2013
Spiny dogfish are little sharks. They teem with abundance from near shore out to Georges Bank. Commercially, they are primarily caught three ways; as bycatch for gill-netters, on longlines (or tub trawls) and by hand-lining on herring-baited hooks.
After the groundfish collapse, it's one of few remaining options for our day boats. Commercial fishermen can take 4,000 pounds a day and they're easy to find. One can limit out daily within sight of the beach.
So what's the problem?
Fishermen are getting 12 cents a pound.
With bait, gear and fuel upward of $200 a trip, it's less a razor-thin profit margin than a tightening noose around the neck of our local fleet.
Dogfish is what the English use in their signature fish and chips dinner.
However, with virtually no domestic market and recent European price softening, "There's almost no demand for our product right now," admits Leo Maher, 51, a Chatham commercial fisherman who handlines dogfish.
Andy Baler owns the Nantucket Fish Company on the Chatham Fish Pier and has tried to introduce them at the retail market as Chatham White Fish, and periodically sells them in the restaurant as "English style fish and chips," but demand has been slack.
When cod was king, dogfish were considered a trash fish and a generational reluctance lingers.
In addition to light demand, commercial and recreational guys alike consider dogfish a nuisance. Indeed, they eat juvenile cod, further hampering stock rebuilding efforts. They also devour scallops, shrimp, lobster, crabs and even other dogfish. During the day they school on the bottom and at night attack throughout the water column.
Doug Feeney fishes commercially out of Chatham and is blunt about the dog's impact. "They're ruining our ecosystem," he says.
But there may be a silver lining.