By SUSAN WEST
State fisheries officials have asked a regional commission to reform
management measures that have all but shut North Carolina
commercial fishermen out of the spiny dogfish fishery.
And if the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the
body that manages dogfish and other migrating species along the East
Coast, doesn’t change those measures, North Carolina could decide
to buck the interstate management plan.
Up until now, North Carolina has always implemented regulations to comply with ASMFC plans.
But the state Spiny Dogfish Compliance Advisory Panel, a group of
fishermen and scientists who have met since 2005 to review the ASMFC
plan and its impact on North Carolina, recommended in March that state
officials disregard the plan in its current form.
Under a complex allocation system that parcels out the total harvest
quota on both a seasonal and a regional formula, North Carolina has
dropped from second to fifth place in spiny dogfish landings on the
“The only solution we see to these ongoing harvest inequities is
for the ASMFC to establish a state-by-state quota allocation system
based on historical landings, as has been done for summer flounder,
black sea bass and bluefish,” wrote Marine Fisheries Commission
(MFC) chairman Mac Currin in a letter to the ASMFC.
A large part of the problem is that fishermen in states to the north
harvest most of the East Coast quota before dogfish migrate to the
waters off North Carolina.
“For the past few seasons, fishermen here just started catching
fish when I’ve had to issue a proclamation closing the
fishery,” explained Louis Daniel, director of the state Division
of Marine Fisheries and member of the ASMFC dogfish board.
Daniel said the ASMFC has agreed to consider a state-by-state allocation system at their August meeting.
“However, I think coming up with a fair system for dividing the
quota between the states will be extremely difficult,” Daniel
In other programs that have assigned fishing privileges to individuals
or to states based on past landings, deciding which years to include in
the landings reference point has usually been controversial.
Spiny dogfish landings in North Carolina have fluctuated wildly,
reaching their zenith in the mid-1990s and falling to largely
negligible levels in response to regulations that came into play after
The state MFC is expected to delay further consideration of its
advisory committee’s recommendation until after the August ASMFC
Should North Carolina decide to take dogfish management into its own
hands, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce could approve a moratorium on the
harvest of dogfish in the state if the evidence shows that the measures
in the ASMFC plan are essential to dogfish conservation.
Fishermen have called dogfish the scourge of the Atlantic, complaining
that the fierce predators that travel in packs devour important
commercial and recreational species, auch as flounder, weakfish, and
Many recreational and commercial fishermen say the population is
thicker than ever and would like to see regulators approve larger
harvest quotas and fewer stringent restrictions for the commercial
And although government scientists agree that the species isn’t
overfished, they say there aren’t enough breeding females to
sustain healthy population levels.
Regulators estimate that males outnumber females 7 to 1.
But Roger Rulifson, a scientist at East Carolina University who has
studied dogfish for over a decade, found a 13 to 1, female to male,
ratio in the population off North Carolina.
And, research at the University of New England’s Marine Science
Center calls into question the assumption that females stay in
shallower waters close to shore. A satellite tag on a female
dogfish showed that it swam to depths of 2,310 feet and stayed at that
depth for a week at least twice.
Fishermen wonder whether government scientists haven’t found more
female dogfish because they haven’t looked in the right places.
Rulifson, whose earlier research prompted a downward revision of the
mortality rate for dogfish caught in gill nets that is used in stock
assessments, will be running an acoustic tagging program to track the
movement of dogfish around Cape Hatteras this winter. He said
water quality and current meters will document the “environmental
cueing factors” that cause the fish to move.
A total of 38,000 spiny dogfish have been tagged and released under
research projects headed up by the East Carolina University
scientist. Information about the tags and a tag return form can
be found at www.spinydogfish.org.