The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network

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Spurdog Fact Sheet

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 Northeast Atlantic by the IUCN
  • inadequately protected and in danger of collapse from overfishing in Europe
  • in urgent need of stronger conservation measures


Spurdog, also known as spiny dogfish, are especially susceptible to overexploitation and long lasting depletion due to their exceptionally slow growth, late maturity, and small litters. Females do not reproduce until their teen years (or later) and give birth to only about six pups after pregnancies that last nearly two years, a record among animals. Like most sharks, spurdog are key predators in marine food webs and therefore important to keeping oceans in balance.

Fisheries today

Europe is the source of a persistent demand for spurdog meat that has sparked intense fisheries for the species in Europe and around the world. Spurdog meat is sold as fish and chips in the UK and as smoked belly flaps in Germany; filets are eaten in other EU countries including Belgium, France, and Italy. Although not preferred, spurdog fins enter international trade for use in “shark fin soup”, an Asian delicacy. Spurdog school by size and sex; demand for large fish often results in fisheries targeting aggregations of pregnant females, which further hampers the population’s reproductive capacity.

Currently, vessels from France, Ireland, the UK, and Norway are responsible for most of the spurdog catches from the Northeast 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 variety of fisheries.

Population status

Due to intense, long-term overfishing, the Northeast Atlantic spurdog stock is the most depleted spurdog population in the world. Scientists from the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) report “undeniable” trends of rapid decline to record low abundance levels, and warn that the population may be in danger of collapse. The IUCN-World Conservation Union includes spurdog on their Red List of Threatened Species, as Vulnerable globally; the Northeast Atlantic population is considered Critically Endangered.

Scientific advice

ICES has recommended ending targeted fisheries for spurdog in the Northeast Atlantic through a single Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limit of zero, applicable to all areas where spurdog are caught in the Northeast Atlantic. ICES scientists also advise the establishment of measures to reduce bycatch of spurdog to the lowest level possible.

Conservation Measures

The spurdog is one of only a few species of sharks for which the EU limits catch. Although the EU TAC for spurdog in the North and Norwegian Sea has been reduced annually for many years, it has remained far in excess of the scientific advice and often above the prior year’s landings. In 2007, this TAC was reduced by 20% to 841 t and spurdog bycatch in the North Sea was limited to 5% of the live weight of the retained catch. Also in 2007, the area in which Northeast Atlantic spurdog catch is limited was expanded[1], but the corresponding TAC (2828 t) is roughly equivalent to the region’s spurdog landings in 2006 (2087 t) and therefore not restrictive.

In 2007, Norway banned fishing and landing of spurdog in its waters and in international waters in ICES areas I-XIV, except for boats under 28 m using traditional gear inshore and in territorial waters (4 nm). Spurdog bycatch in other fisheries must be landed and Norwegian fisheries managers can stop fisheries when catches reach the prior year’s level. Norway has had a 70 cm minimum landing size limit on spurdog for many years.

Germany, on behalf of the EU, has proposed to limit international trade in spurdog to sustainable levels through listing under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At the 2007 Conference of the CITES Parties, the proposal received a majority of votes in Committee, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for adoption. The lack of an effective spurdog rebuilding plan by the proponent Party (EU) was used as a powerful argument against the proposal.

Call to Action

Northeast Atlantic spurdog have been overfished for far too long. The EU has called on countries around the world to limit spurdog trade, but has yet to impose effective measures for rebuilding its own population. For years, scientists have advised that directed fishing on this Critically Endangered population should cease and that bycatch minimization measures should be imposed. It is high time to heed that advice.

The Shark Alliance urges EU Fisheries Ministers to improve the outlook for beleaguered spurdog (spiny dogfish sharks) by working to secure:

  • A single TAC of zero to cover all Northeast Atlantic spurdog in 2008
  • Complementary measures to minimize bycatch and discard mortality
  • Development of a comprehensive EU spurdog recovery plan, and
  • A science-based European Community Plan of Action for Sharks.

[1] to include areas outside the EU waters of IIa and IV, covering ICES sub-areas IIIa, I, V, VI, VII, VIII, XII and XIV (EU and international waters).

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