Not just a
huge collection of
Elasmodiver.com contains images of sharks, skates, rays, and a few
chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web
to help divers find the best places to encounter the different
species of sharks and rays that live in shallow water but it has
slowly evolved into a much larger project containing information on
all aspects of shark diving and shark photography.
now more than 10,000 shark pictures and sections on shark
evolution, biology, and conservation. There is a large library of
reviewed shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a
monster list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are
numerous articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is
now so difficult to check for updates, that new information and
pictures are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be
dogfish debate Posted
on Mon, Feb. 10, 2003
The Philadelphia Enquirer
on one side, conservationists on the other. In the middle: A shark once scorned
as trash. Is it thriving, or is it being fished out of existence? By
Sandy Bauers Inquirer Staff Writer
Not long ago, the spiny dogfish,
a decidedly unglamorous member of the shark family, was just a trash fish that
fouled fishermen's nets.
wanted to catch it, let alone eat it. Fishermen held strategy sessions on how to
get away from schools of dogfish.
about a decade after being "discovered" in the commercial fishing
industry here, the once lowly dogfish is now at the center of an ecological
biologists and conservationists claim it is being fished out of existence along
the Atlantic coast.
say it is still so abundant it is more like a plague with fins, to the point of
interfering with their ability to catch more profitable fish.
think we're looking at a train wreck," Charles A. Witek 3d, a New York
lawyer, recreational fisherman and conservationist, told a dozen members of the
Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council who gathered here recently in a casino
meeting room todebate the fate of the "dog."
management specialist James L. Armstrong told the panel the coastal population
was in such decline it might take half a century to rebuild.
Lovgren, a Brick, N.J., commercial fisherman, glowered. "We have an ocean
full of dogfish," he insisted.
could walk on the water off
, because he'd be stepping on dogfish," Lovgren said later. "This is
just anti-fishing propaganda, plain and simple."
classic fish debate - conservationists vs. fishermen - is made more complicated
by the dogfish's amazing biology.
females aren't sexually mature until age 12. And while much younger female
codfish, for instance, spew out five million eggs a year, the spiny dogfish
bears live young (about six "pups" at a time) and takes two years to
do it. Its gestation period of 22 to 24 months is one of the longest on the
way, the fishermen are right. There really are a lot of dogfish in the sea - at
least 214 million, if you simply divide the estimated 2002 "biomass"
of 857 million pounds of dogfish by the average weight of today's dogfish, which
is four pounds.
though, the important question is not how many fish there are in the sea, but
whether even the current reduced catch is sustainable.
alarms researchers, Armstrong said, is that the number of sexually mature
females has plummeted. And for five years, the birth of pups has been virtually
fisheries council member Alan Weiss likens the situation to an airplane that has
just lost its engine.
still flying," said Weiss, president of Blue Water Fishing Tackle Co., a
Conshohocken wholesaler of commercial and recreational fishing gear. "But
you know it's not going to stay up for very long."
current saga of the dogfish began around 1990. With cod in serious decline
because of overfishing, the dogfish was discovered to be an adequate - and
abundant - substitute in the European fish-and-chips market.
officials began to encourage a commercial fishery and pushed it for American
palates, redubbing it the more eater-friendly "cape shark."
in Essence of Fennel" and "Cape Shark Teriyaki" began to hit Web
shark was served at New York Gov. George E. Pataki's 1995 inaugural ball.
of throwing the ones that got caught in their nets overboard, as they always
had, commercial fishermen began to target them.
dogfish is a cold-water species, so the main fishery was in
. But the fish migrates as far south as
, and a few have been known to push on toward
went from 22,000 pounds in 1989 to 4.5 million pounds in 1990. Dogfish filled
the gaps when fishermen - often family operators with a single boat - couldn't
target species such as cod or haddock because of limits.
don't fish for fish, they fish for dollars," said Bruce Freeman, of the New
Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. Even at 10 to 20 cents a pound,
dogfish brought in cash when nothing else would.
fishermen targeted the biggest dogs, which happened to be the sexually mature
say the situation was a recipe for disaster.
guess it's a case of 'be careful what you wish for,' " said Rich Seagraves,
coordinator of the dogfish plan for the council.
if fishing stopped tomorrow, it could take 14 years - about a generation - to
bring back the dogfish, Armstrong said. Allow even limited fishing, and it could
take 50 years.
fishermen have an entirely different vision of disaster and the dogfish. They
say it's hard to believe the species is being overfished, when there are so many
dogs in the sea that they can hardly dip a net or drop a hook without catching
dogs get into a net, they chew up both the net and any other fish in it.
Fishermen have to remove them by hand, risking being sliced by their spines,
which contain a mild toxin.
this point," Lovgren said, "they're the biggest concern of every
fisherman on this coast."
chasm between what researchers say and what fishermen see is so wide that some
question the survey techniques.
evaluate the population by dragging a net behind a research trawler, counting
what comes up, and extrapolating.
the nets aren't set right, or if the boat goes too fast or too slow, the results
could be off.
can't disregard what I see on the water and what I hear," said James A.
Ruhle Sr., a council member from
. "I have serious problems with the stock assessment. I question the
said, "Those researchers couldn't catch a dogfish if you threw it to
the council has to work with the numbers it has. Over the next few months, the
members will have to reach a decision among themselves - and then come to an
agreement with the
first time they tried, it was a struggle. The dogfish was officially declared
overfished in 1998. Under federal law, any "overfished" species must
have a management plan to restore it in 10 years.
two years, the
and Mid-Atlantic councils battled. They agreed to set limits, but the
Mid-Atlantic council wanted an annual quota of 2.9 million pounds and
balked at anything less than 14 million pounds.
2000, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley stepped in and imposed a limit of 4
million pounds, with trip limits of 300 to 600 pounds per boat, depending on the
regulations led to a virtual shutdown of the New Jersey
fishery because no one could sell a mere 300 pounds of dogfish. The processors
, and the buyers' trucks hold 30,000 pounds.
Fordham, a shark expert with the Ocean Conservancy, urged the council to ban all
and other shark conservationists, the dogfish is a valuable member of the ocean
ecosystem. Its depletion would dent the image the
is fostering as a protector of sharks.
is a terrible shame," she said. "This is one of the few sharks that,
because of its abundance, had a better chance than most. It could have sustained
a fishery. But we've blown it. It's too little, too late."
at the hearing were William and James Leach, who fish out of Barnegat, N.J., on
William's 45-footer, the Kristin Lynn, named for his daughter and wife.
navigate not just the ocean, but a sea of regulations. "You almost need a
law degree to make sure you're legal," William Leach said.
swordfish are legal, the fishermen put on the $30,000 long-line gear. When
monkfish are legal, they switch to the $20,000 gill nets. Back and forth. They
used to fish for dogs, but not anymore.
point, when the council began to discuss the feasibility of limiting the catch
of mature females, but allowing a take of smaller males, they snorted with
going to post a sign on the net," James Leach muttered. "No females
fish swim the sea
Baltimore Sun dogfish story by Timothy B. Wheeler Sun Staff
Originally published August 11, 2003
There was a time when fishermen
cursed if they caught a spiny dogfish. The little sharks, 2- to 3-feet long,
would steal bait from hooks set for valuable fish, or chew through a
trawler's prized catch before the nets could be hauled in. Worse yet, the
oceangoing pests seemed to be everywhere.
But as catches of cod, haddock and other desirable fish declined over the
years, consumers developed a taste for the lowly dogfish. In England, it's
likely to be the fish in "fish and chips." Commercial fishermen
here and abroad have responded by targeting a species once reviled as
"trash," with catches increasing almost tenfold since the late
Although fishermen say they're still plentiful, scientists insist the spiny
dogfish is in deep trouble. Annual government surveys show a sharp decline
in the number of female dogfish all along the Atlantic coast, while young
fish, or "pups," have virtually disappeared. That bodes ill for
the future, scientists say.
"It's hard for people to recognize that there's such a real
threat," says Michael Sissenwine, director of scientific programs for
the National Marine Fisheries Service. "They're still relatively
abundant. ... It's a problem you really can't see."
The dogfish debate highlights a continuing controversy over the management
of fisheries here and abroad. An article in the journal Nature recently
argued that worldwide "industrialized" fishing has reduced the
number and size of cod, halibut, tuna, swordfish and other large fish by as
much as 90 percent over the past half-century.
At a protest last week in Baltimore, conservationists complained that
commercial interests have dominated the debate over fishery regulation since
the 1970s. As a result, they said, 60 percent of commercially important U.S.
fish stocks are severely depleted. "The U.S. management system is just
not working," said Matt Rand of the National Environmental Trust.
He echoed a report this summer from the Pew Oceans Commission, an
independent group of experts financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which
called for reforms in how the United States handles its fisheries.
Industry spokesmen and government officials dispute charges that the oceans
are being overfished. But conservationists say the dogfish proves their
point: Although some stocks are recovering through improved management,
federal and state laws fail to ensure that all fish are harvested in a
"This doesn't bode well for other species, and especially sharks,"
contends Sonja Fordham, fish conservation project manager for the Ocean
Conservancy, based in Washington.
Sissenwine acknowledges that regulators haven't done enough to preserve the
spiny dogfish, despite drafting a plan to rebuild the population.
"There's a lot of good science that says we need to lower the catch, or
it isn't going to be sustained in the long term," he said.
Commercial dogfish operations were sharply curtailed three years ago when
scientists warned that the species was in serious jeopardy. But this year,
officials from Massachusetts -- home of the coast's largest dogfish fleet --
persuaded the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to let fishermen
working inshore catch up to 8.8 million pounds of spiny dogfish in the
coming year -- more than twice the earlier limit. States regulate fishing
within three miles of their shoreline, while the federal government controls
catches from 3 miles to 200 miles out.
Massachusetts officials argued that there were flaws in the federal dogfish
How are fish counted in the ocean? Federal scientists at Woods Hole, Mass.,
base their assessments of Atlantic fish stocks largely on semi-annual
trawling surveys. Two research trawlers operated by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration drag nets along the ocean bottom for 30-minute
intervals at hundreds of randomly selected spots from Cape Hatteras north to
Canada. They count, measure and weigh every fish hauled aboard, adding to a
compendium of fish-sampling data that stretches back into the 1960s.
Fishermen -- who have chafed at severe restrictions and even closure of some
of their most valuable fisheries on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine --
say the surveys undercount the fish. NOAA biologists use outdated trawling
methods and gear, fishermen charge, and don't sample where the fish are
likely to congregate.
The scientists counter that they sample the water at random, rather than
search for fish using sonar, to get a true picture of abundance. They use
the same gear and methods year after year, they say, so they can reliably
The latest flare-up occurred last year, when NOAA officials acknowledged
that the Albatross IV's bottom-dragging net wasn't deployed evenly during
the winter and spring surveys off New England. Industry officials labeled
the error "Trawlgate," but subsequent reviews by independent
determined that it did not invalidate the results.
"I think it was a lot about nothing," said Jon Volstad, a
specialist in fish population dynamics for Versar Inc., a consulting firm
based in Columbia.
Volstad, whose firm does work for government and industry, participated in
one of the scientific reviews. He noted that fish move around a lot and are
not evenly distributed.
"There will always be some uncertainty, but in general [National Marine
Fisheries Service] has good survey techniques," he said. Survey data
aside, regulators sensitive to the fishermen's economic plight sometimes
bend scientists' recommendations on what is a sustainable catch.
"Fishermen are in a bad spot," notes Robert Beal, interstate
fisheries manager for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
"Allowing another 4 million pounds of dogfish is a help for those
But the decision will only exacerbate the looming dogfish disaster, federal
scientists warn. That's because fishermen are going after the largest of the
species, and females grow faster than the males. Annual trawl surveys have
tracked a 75 percent decline in female dogfish since 1998, and for the past
seven years they have turned up very few young.
Like other sharks, spiny dogfish are slow to mature, taking 12 years to
reach reproductive age, and they bear young every other year. That makes
them highly vulnerable to overfishing, experts say.
Though unable to block the reopening of commercial dogfishing in state
waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service on July 17 imposed a ban on
taking dogfish from federally managed waters.
The federal closure will ease, but not erase the impact of the state's
action, since many fishermen work only inshore waters. "Whatever we do
now," Fordham warns, "the population will still decline because
there are no pups coming in."