Last week the European Union considered a petition to ban on all products made from spiny dogfish. The petition, put forward by the representative from Germany, would have banned trade of all spiny dogfish products, and barring that called for changing the names of some European seafood names (including Germany’s own Schillerlocke) to explicitly state that they were made from the meat of spiny dogfish. The full text of the petition and the EU’s response are available here. This petition, had it passed, could have had a huge impact on dogfish fisheries worldwide, including our own here in the United States.
The end result was a rejection of both measures by the EU, on the grounds that while spiny dogfish are indeed as endangered as can be in Europoean waters, other stocks (such as the U.S./Canadian population in the Northwest Atlantic) are healthy and capable of being fished sustainably. The EU has already responded to their crashing spiny dogfish population by making them a no-take species in targeted commercial fisheries, which means the vast majority dogfish consumed in Europe is imported. A good amount of that comes from the U.S., and was really what drove the development of the fishery. After the beating the U.S. dogfish fishery has taken from the domestic market, it really dodged a bullet with the rejection of this petition.
The Parliament also decided against changing the names of dogfish products, since a wholesale name change may cause confusion among consumers (more so than the actual mislabeling going on right now?). It also smacked down Germany for not actually listing Schillerlocke as spiny dogfish on its own official list of seafood names.
I’m actually cool with the EU’s decision to not ban dogfish products, since it’s the all-too-uncommon fisheries management decision that actually seems to be based on sound science and reasoning over politics. However, as a proponent of proper seafood labeling I’m a bit disappointed in the decision on labeling dogfish products. Spiny dogfish meat is commonly sold under different names (like “fish and chips” in the U.K.), presumably because the mental image of the fish or the name itself are unappetizing. However, other “trash fish” species such as monkfish (way uglier than dogfish) and skates have gained acceptance (and proper labeling) even at high-end seafood restaurants. A concern with shark meat in particular is that sharks have received so much attention for being both endangered and packed with mercury that consumers may be turned off by knowing they’re eating shark. On that issue, is it more important to inform the consumer or market the product?
My take? If your dogfish is from a decent source, chow down. But make sure you’re calling it dogfish.
Tip o’ the hat to David “WhySharksMatter” Shiffman for bringing this to my attention.