View Full Version : Doggone Dogfish

01-23-2006, 10:14 AM
From Cape Cod Times:

It's a doggone silly story; science doesn't make sense

It's safe to assume that hundreds of thousands of people fished from the great backside beaches last year.

Most of them are going to find what comes next absolutely incredible: There are fishery people worried about the status of dogfish stocks. They deduce there are not enough large females to maintain the population. Amazing.

If you fished the beach last summer, you probably lost a bass or two or eight to one of two longshore predators: Seals or dogfish. And you probably had a few days or nights when you couldn't fish at all.

There were so many dogfish around, you could not hook an actual fish. Dogfish skin is rough, like sandpaper; you lose a lot of expensive tackle when your line rubs against a dogfish. But even if tackle cost did not concern you, the magnitude of their presence simply made fishing impossible.

This same dynamic also affected many commercial fishermen. There were days when groundfishing was actually open, but the entire Provincetown fleet had to turn around and go home - empty - because the only fish in their huge section of ocean was, yup, doggies. Schools so huge that you could fill the entire net within 10 minutes, enough to sink your boat if things go haywire.

Tuna fishermen simply can't set baits when there's thousands of doggies in the neighborhood. There is no tuna fishery on those kinds of days.

Dogfish are also called sand sharks. They are small, they give live birth. Their green eyes are about as evil a thing as you're likely to peer into. They are tremendous predators. Wolves of the sea. They eat, and they eat some more, small codfish, flounder, young bass.

This is where fishery ''science'' simply looks foolish. This may be because, in truth, it often is.

We as a society want an ocean full of codfish, yellowtail, blackbacks, whiting. Why, then, do we even consider protecting the greatest predator there is?

Well, I know you'll find this shocking, simply shocking. The primary answer is ''politics.''

Dogfish are fished by New England boats, but not managed by the New England Fishery Management Council. Instead, they fall under the Mid-Atlantic FMC, which, one notes, has few fishermen engaged in this particular fishery.

Which means the Mid-Atlantic FMC will not feel a lot of heat if they tighten down this fishery.

Among many of the eco-groups, there has been an upsurge of concern about ''sharks.'' We put that in quotes because there seems to be a sort of floating, all-encompassing, unfocused kind of concern.

There is an eco-group chief on the Mid-Atlantic Council who was thrown a bone - perhaps an unfortunate word when talking dogfish - that yes, we will all worry about the state of dogfish stocks. Poor thangs, jes' swimmin' out there, all alone in the ocean...

Prior to all this, New England fishermen were able to actually fish for something. On occasion, they fished for dogfish. The fillet went to England for fish 'n chips. The bellies to West Germany where they are smoked and enjoyed. The fishery made them a little money, enough to help keep the banker from the door.

Any serious eco-person would see the logic of aiming a battery of fishing boats at the massive dogfish schools we know to be out there. After all, the fewer of them, the more likely thousands of young cod, flounder, etc. will make it to adulthood.

But no. Last year fishermen were allowed a scant 4 million pounds of dogfish. A pittance. Not enough to keep the plants specially designed to deal with this odd shark afloat, and most have since closed. We all know what that means - we're not likely to see them back.

This year's news? There is much gnashing of teeth at the Mid-Atlantic Council. Even though everyone knows that fishery numbers are never reported in real time - there is some data that indicates a supposed paucity of big females.

The council now proposes to dial down the fishery to 2 million pounds. I don't know how many tractor-trailer loads that actually is, but I'd bet it isn't many.

As a fishery, it's nowhere near enough to have any beneficial economic benefit. And it certainly won't do much to reduce that pack of predators out there.

You saw how many doggies were just off the beaches last summer. But somehow, the fishery folks believe there aren't enough.

Molly Benjamin is a former commercial fisherman who writes about the business and outdoor activities.
(Published: January 23, 2006)