PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The stability of the dogfish population off the coast of New England is not in jeopardy despite a recent survey that found less of the fish off of Maine and New Hampshire than previous years.
The little sharks, which range from Labrador to Florida and are most abundant from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, are still abundant in New England’s waters, according to scientists and fishermen.
Dogfish made up only a third of a percent of Maine’s fall 2013 trawl survey of species off of Maine and New Hampshire — down from a high of nearly 42 percent in 2004.
Federal regulators say the fishes are actually growing in abundance. James Armstrong, who manages the species for the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, said they are estimated to exceed their target level by 33 percent. And James Sulikowski, a biologist with the University of New England who studies the species, said there are about 230,000 metric tons of spawning dogfish in the Gulf of Maine, a nearly five-fold increase from ten years ago.
“The guys are seeing a lot of dogfish out there,” said Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange. “There’s no problem.”
The Maine Department of Marine Resources performs the twice annual trawl survey as one way of collecting data about fish species abundance. Dogfish migrate over wide distances and their small percentage of the trawl survey only means they weren’t present in the coastal areas of Maine and New Hampshire where the survey took place, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the department.
The dogfish migrate because of factors such as temperature and availability of prey, Nichols said. The trawl survey uses a “random sampling scheme” and doesn’t target any particular species, he said.
Dogfish are fished commercially for food, and there is a small demand for them from scientific and biomedical industries, Nichols said.
Although New England restaurants have used dogfish in everything from marinated skewers, a la chicken teriyaki, to fish and chips, fishermen have had little success finding a broader market for them as a cheap source of protein. Efforts to market dogfish are hindered by a lack of dogfish processors in Maine, said Jongerden, who added there were a half dozen such processors in Portland in the 1990s before strict quotas were imposed.
“The guys can’t justify fishing them and handling them and icing them for the price levels,” Jongerden said.
Maine fishermen caught a little more than 100,000 pounds of dogfish in 2013 at a total value of $17,945 — barely a tenth the price per pound of haddock, and less than seven percent of the price per pound of cod. The total value of the cod catch was $736,154, while for haddock it was $211,279.