The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network

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Spurdog - Best practice


The spurdog or spiny dogfish has been fished beyond safe biological levels and are classed as critically endangered so please treat any fish you catch with respect and release them as soon as possible.

Whilst Spurdog may look big and tough creatures they are actually quite delicate especially when out of the water.

This code has been written so that you can enjoy fishing for spurdog but most importantly cause the minimum of damage to any Spurdog you are lucky enough to encounter.

It is worth remembering that the sharp spines are used by the fish as defensive weapon and these can easily pierce a wellington boot. In one instance the spine caused a wound on an angler that required 18 stitches so extreme care is required when handling them

Please remember a gut hooked fish is usually down to bad angling practice and should be avoided by striking early.

Releasing a spurdog without taking it out of the water is the preferred option.


Of all the species of shark regularly encountered around the UK, the Spurdog (Squalas Acanthias) is one of the easiest to identify, namely due to the large spines which protrude in front of both dorsal fins

The Spur is generally slate gray or dark brown on its back which fades to a white belly, the Spur also has a distinctive green eye and scissor like teeth.

Be Prepared

It is essential that you are prepared for any eventuality when landing a spurdog

It sounds obvious, but the time taken to find buried tools in tackle boxes or under a pile of clothing means the spurdog is under stress for longer than necessary.

This means having T bars, pliers, wire cutters, tagging kits, weighing slings (if applicable), cameras etc. at hand with each and every person present knowing what is expected of them.

Time is the vital factor that may dictate whether the fish will survive the capture and subsequent release

Hook sizes

The use of bronze finished hooks is the singularly most important factor in the release of deep-hooked sharks as any hook that has to be left in a fish will dissolve rapidly.

A size 4/0, is recommended, either barb-less or with the barb crushed to facilitate the unhooking process.

As lip hooking significantly reduces the likelihood of a hook being left in the fish the use of circle hooks should also be considered.


Spurdog are a large, strong fish with sharp teeth and rough skin.

Losing a fish because of an inappropriate trace increases the likelihood of fish mortality due to trailing line. The trace should be at least one metre long of 80 lb nylon with a 50 lb 200mm wire biting length.

When to strike

It is essential to strike early to avoid a deep hooked fish.

A gut hooked fish is usually down to bad angling practice, it is better to miss the bite than gut hook the fish.

Dealing with the fish

The recommended option is to release the fish in the water with a long handled “T” bar. This is far better for the fish and easiest option for the angler.

Insert the slit on the bar round the bend of the hook with one hand and pull the line down with the other. Use the weight of the fish to pull out the hook.

A barb-less hook or crushed barb makes this a simple task.

The practice of making spurs ‘easier’ or ’safer’ to handle by breaking off the spines with a pair of pliers is to be frowned upon.

As spurs have a two year gestation period then there is a good chance any large spurdog you encounter will be pregnant so extra care must be taken to avoid the fish aborting through stress.

Spurdog are not an aggressive or vicious species despite the look of the teeth or spines - simply treat with caution.  Do not attempt to handle by trying to wrap the head and tail in a single grip as is commonly done with the LSD.

To leave the hook in or not?

There are occasions, all though this is often down to inexperience or bad angling practice when, the spurdog swallows everything and the hook is out of sight or in the protruding stomach.

The best option for the welfare of the fish is to cut the line as close to the hook as possible.

The spurdog will lose the hook eventually (providing it is not stainless steel) and will swallow the stomach as this method is used by sharks, as a defence mechanism to get rid of unwanted stomach contents.

If you can see the hook in the wall of the mouth then it may be preferable to land the fish to safely remove the hook.

Landing the fish

If you need to land the fish then the safety of both the fish and the angler is paramount.

Remember sharks have no ribcage and the water pressure keeps all the vital organs in place.

Dragging a fish backwards or holding it by the tail can easily rupture the internal organs.  It may swim off fine but die a few days later.

To remove the fish from the water hold the dorsal fin and tail and lift the fish horizontally, alternatively a pectoral fin may be used, however, where possible, the abdomen should be supported to the highest degree possible.

When you cannot reach the fish, a large, landing net should be used, taking care to lower the fish gently onto the deck or land.

A wet cloth or towel soaked in sea water should be placed over the head ensuring the eyes are fully covered; this usually pacifies the spurdog and makes the removal of the hook with a disgorger or long nosed pliers an easier and safer procedure.

Avoid Holding spurs in a death grip from behind the head as the fingers and thumb can crush the gill structures. A gentle grip either on the snout (neoprene gloves give an excellent grip) or behind the gill area will do the trick.  A foot placed either side of the body can help minimise squirming while unhooking, provided you have a decent pair of leather (not rubber) boots on.

Where an angler is fishing alone it is recommended that all fish are released in the water, either by using a T bar or cutting the line close to the fish.

In no circumstances is the use of a gaff recommended. It is not necessary and seriously damages fish.

Weighing a fish.

If the spurdog is to be weighed, the preferred method is by the use of a suitably sized weighing sling laid out beforehand.

The fish should be placed in this sling immediately it is unhooked, ensuring that unsupported movement is restricted. Ensure that the fish is placed evenly within the sling before lifting.

Photographing the fish

When photographing and returning the fish remember to keep the fish horizontal, with the abdomen supported by the arms and the tail grasped firmly.

Releasing the fish.

When releasing the spurdog, hold the head of the fish into the tide for a short period to get oxygen back into its gills, once the fish kicks that is a good indication that it has recovered enough to be released.

On occasions the fish may become gassed up and fail to swim off; this can be caused by winding up the fish to fast. A slight pressure to the abdomen whilst the fish is in the water should expel the air.


Spurdog are a large, powerful, active fish and their teeth are as sharp as razor blades and will instantly bite a finger to the bone and their spines can cause severe damage to the angler.

The best practice for angler and fish is to remove the hook whilst the fish is still in the water, but if you have to land the fish then the safety of the angler and fish is paramount and care must be taken at all times.

Enjoy the fishing but please remember respect must be given to these magnificent sharks at all times.

By following this code, you will help preserve the stocks of this magnificent fighting fish for generations to come.

This code of conduct was produced by the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network ( It may be freely distributed with the normal acknowledgements.

2 Responses to “Spurdog - Best practice”

  1. 1
    The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network » Blog Archive » Spurdog - best practice Says:

    [...] can find the SSACN code of best practice relating to spurdog here. Related [...]

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    The Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network » Blog Archive » How to report capture of a tagged fish Says:

    [...] the codes of best practice for  spurdog here , tope here and for  common skate here. Related [...]

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