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Fish Friers

Spiny Dogfish sold in fish and chip shops – do you know what it is?

Article Date: 2014-07-23

In July, the NFFF received a request for information from a large national newspaper relating to the Spiny Dogfish, Squalus acanthias, which is sold in some fish and chip shops under various pseudonyms. A lot of people won’t realise this is a species of shark.

Seafish, the authority on seafood, provided some useful facts to the newspaper. We hope the following will be helpful to our members.

What we eat in many fish and chip shops in the south of England is Spurdog (also known as Spiny Dogfish) – and while it is fairly commonly available and sold legally, it is still a species in debate.

The greatest threat to Spiny Dogfish populations worldwide is overfishing, and although this species is abundant in certain areas, it is also one of the more vulnerable shark species to over-exploitation, mainly due to their slow growth coupled with the tendency for fisheries to often target vulnerable pregnant females due to their larger weight.

Europe is the source of a persistent demand for spurdog meat that has sparked intense fishing for the species in Europe and around the world. Spurdog meat is obviously sold as fish and chips in the UK (usually as huss, "rock salmon”* or flake) and is also eaten as smoked belly flaps in Germany; and fillets are eaten in other European countries including Belgium, France, and Italy.

Currently, vessels from France, Ireland, the UK, and Norway are responsible for most of the spurdog catches from the North East Atlantic population, with the main fishing grounds being in the North Sea, West of Scotland, and the Celtic Sea, as well as occasionally the Norwegian Sea. Spurdog are fished with bottom trawls, hook & line gear, and gillnets. Substantial numbers of spurdog are also taken incidentally, as "bycatch” in a number of other fisheries.

In essence Spiny Dogfish sharks (Spurdog) are:

• Exceptionally slow-growing and vulnerable to overfishing
• Heavily exploited primarily for European demand for meat
• Considered critically endangered in the North East Atlantic by the IUCN
• Inadequately protected and in danger of collapse from overfishing in Europe
• In urgent need of stronger conservation measures

Lesser Spotted Dogfish (also known as catsharks) are one of the few shark species whose numbers appear to be stable at present and possibly increasing in the North Sea and Celtic Seas. However, due to landings being recorded as mixed-shark in many cases it is difficult to be certain of stock patterns for any species.

In general consumers should avoid eating shark species as they are vulnerable to overexploitation, due to their specific biological characteristics (slow-growing, late to mature and generally produce few young).

*There is some confusion about the term "rock salmon”, which appears on some menus in UK fish and chip shops – mainly in southern England. It is understood that the term "rock salmon” was coined years ago to make the product seem more appealing to customers, and thus the term is, for scientific purposes, insignificant.

If you’re a member of the NFFF and would like some advice on this on your menu, please contact NFFF Head Office.

Thanks to Andy Gray at Seafish for providing this information.

Fish Friers