People typically focus on the types of sharks that might be a problem for humans, but not on those that we might prey upon ourselves. One local species, dogfish, is a smallish shark that is tasty to eat and is caught both commercially and recreationally.  

Spiny dogfish, Squalus acanthius, are the ones that we have in Maine. They are in both the North Atlantic and North Pacific and prefer the cooler waters of both coasts. Like all sharks, they have cartilaginous bodies that are super flexible and help them to swim extra quickly both to swim away from predators like larger sharks and seals and to catch speedy prey like mackerel, herring, menhaden along with crustaceans, squid and pretty much anything they can munch. As their name indicates, they have spines on their backs which are grey with distinctive white spots, and two dorsal fins that you might see poking above the surface. They don’t get super big – up to three or four feet with the females being slightly bigger as they mature later.  

On the topic of maturity, sharks like dogfish are a different story when it comes to reproduction. The females don’t start to reproduce until they are an average of 12 years old. They don’t produce bucket-loads of eggs like fish do. Instead, they have live young – about a half dozen baby sharks at a time. This is after a long incubation time of 1 ½-2 years. Then, they can live up to 40 years! This all has to be taken into account when managing the fishery. 

They’re also movers, migrating along the Atlantic coast throughout the year. For that reason, they are designated as a highly migratory species and are managed by the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). In each region, they are managed by the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC) and the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC). These authorities collaborate in setting catch limits as well as closing areas for offshore winter spawning and for restricting the types of gear used to catch them.  

Dogfish are most often caught commercially by ground fishing boats that are fishing for other species that swim along the bottom of the seafloor. While dogfish aren’t their target species, these boats can keep a certain amount of them as incidental catch. There are particular regulations on mesh size specific to certain areas along the coast. These boats also have to report their catch in order to track the total that is taken. While dogfish are caught in Maine, the majority of the catch is landed further south.  

Recreationally, you can catch dogfish using a hook and line if you have a saltwater permit. A permit can be obtained either through the state where you are fishing or through NOAA Fisheries (  

So, who eats all these dogfish? Like many species caught in Maine, dogfish are part of what some people dub the “seafood swap”. Somewhere around 99% of the seafood harvested in the United States is shipped overseas. A bunch of it is then processed and shipped back to the United States. And then a bunch more of what we eat in this country is farm-raised overseas.  

Most of the dogfish gets shipped out. It is mostly in demand in the European market – fish and chips for the British, Shillerlocken at German beer gardens, and in French stews and soups. Efforts have been made to market it to Americans as “cape shark”, which sounds a bit more appealing, and some crafty chefs have had some success in creating tasty dogfish steaks.  

Knowing more about each species that lives and is harvested locally is a good step in helping to keep more of this catch in the United States. This is better for the fishermen and the consumer – and dogfish can actually be pretty tasty.

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