Dogfish Fisheries: Too Successful for Their Own Good?

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Things had been going pretty well for U.S. dogfish fisheries.  In June 2010, after half a decade of an essentially closed fishery, the U.S. Atlantic stock was considered rebuilt.  Shortly after, representatives of the fishery petitioned and successfully received sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  Meanwhile, the west coast fishery received MSC certification for a very low-quota, hook and line fishery for Pacific spiny dogfish.  On both coasts, spiny dogfish had gone from a species in peril to an apparently “green” seafood choice.

So with this part of the re-branding of dogfish going so well, why would the first ever certified sustainable shark fishery voluntarily pull it’s own certification?  As of right now the only official explanation is that there have not been many dogfish landed in the hook and line fishery, and no real processing has been going on.  Basically, The fishery withdrew its certification because it wasn’t actually fishing.

The answer might be that while attempts to label spiny dogfish as a green seafood option have been successful, efforts to get it to catch on in the U.S. have not.  Fishermen have certainly been landing dogfish, especially in the more industrialized Atlantic fishery.  The problem is that all these dogfish haven’t been selling, leading to a huge surplus in the market, which translated to an absurdly low payout for fishermen at the fish house.  This has lead the industry to petition the USDA to buy up some of that surplus dogfish to get it out of the market and hopefully draw the price back up.  With the price low enough to justify that measure, it’s no wonder hook and line groundfishermen in the Pacific Northwest are choosing to release their eco-certified dogfish in favor of more valuable species.

The dogfish fishery has been successful at rebuilding their stock, raising their quotas, and catching their fish.  Unfortunately, they still need to find someone to eat those fish.



  1. Dave · October 20, 2013

    Does it cost money to maintain the certification? Otherwise, I’m not clear on why the certification be dropped, regardless of how many are being caught/sold.

  2. rob · October 20, 2013

    and up here in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where a large amount of fishing vessels land Spiny Dogs, no dealer is purchasing them…..which is screwing the fishermen over as they counted on landing their Dogs as a major part of each trip, especially since NOAA upped the limit to 4000#….

    The reason we have been told the dealers are not buying is that the PCB levels in the fish are too high…so..if they harboring PCBs at such high levels than how come they are being pushed into the USDA as a food source?

    Seems like there is some major disconnect between the dealers who purchase the Dogs from the vessels and the rest of the world and media.

    I would LOVE to hear more about the entire fishery from your point of view (been following the blog for awhile now)

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