Atlantic Spiny Dogfish

Atlantic spiny dogfish

Squalus acanthias


    Dogfish shark, Cape dogfish, Cape shark, Spring dogfish, Spiked dogfish, Grayfish, Spur dog, Picked dogfish


    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina



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Spiny dogfish was once considered an “underutilized” species with relatively minor value to the domestic fisheries of the U.S. East Coast. As more traditional groundfish resources declined, and as international markets opened due to a rapid decline in European dogfish stocks, some U.S. commercial fishermen started fishing for dogfish. From 1987 to 1996, harvests increased nearly 10-fold. Most fishermen targeted larger—primarily female—dogfish. This disproportionate removal of mature female dogfish led to a significant decline in the population. By 1998, scientists found the spiny dogfish stock had fallen below the minimum level determined to be sustainable.

To reverse this decline and rebuild the stock, managers established an annual catch limit at a level that would rebuild the stock and limited how much dogfish a fishermen could harvest during a single fishing trip. They set this limit low enough to discourage a directed fishery for dogfish, and harvests subsequently decreased dramatically. In 2010, NOAA Fisheries announced that the spiny dogfish stock was rebuilt. As a result, managers have now increased catch limits for the dogfish fishery. Higher catch limits provide greater opportunities for fishermen in the dogfish fishery, and for others who supplement their groundfish income by catching dogfish. The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is the largest shark fishery in the United States, and it is being managed at sustainable levels. 

Spiny dogfish are also found and harvested in the North Pacific Ocean, but it is a different species. See Pacific spiny dogfish page.

Looking Ahead

The Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils (federal waters) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (state waters) share responsibility for management of spiny dogfish in the Atlantic Ocean. Because the state fishery management plan sometimes differs from the federal plan, conflicting regulations (e.g., seasonal closures and quotas) can cause confusion among spiny dogfish fishermen. The councils are amending the fishery management plan to better align federal regulations with state regulations, which will simplify management along the Atlantic coast. 



Spiny dogfish are found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans, mostly in the temperate and subarctic areas. In the Northwest Atlantic, they are found from Labrador to Florida and are most abundant between Nova Scotia and Cape Hatteras. Spiny dogfish live inshore and offshore, usually near the bottom but also in mid-water and at the surface.

Spiny dogfish swim in large schools and migrate seasonally, with changes in water temperature. Much of the population travels north in the spring and summer and south in the fall and winter. Some spiny dogfish remain in northern waters throughout the year and move offshore during the winter.



Like all sharks, dogfish grow slowly, mature late in life, and live a long time (35 to 40 years). Female spiny dogfish grow larger and mature later than males—they’re first able to reproduce at age 12 and they grow up to 4 feet (compared to males at 6 years and 3.3 feet). Spiny dogfish spawn in winter in offshore waters. Females have between two and 12 eggs per spawning season. The eggs are fertilized internally and, after a gestation period of 18 to 24 months, female dogfish bear live young (an average of six pups).

Spiny dogfish are top-level predators. They are opportunistic feeders, preying on whatever is most available. Smaller dogfish tend to feed primarily on crustaceans, while larger individuals like to eat jellyfish, squid, and schooling fish. Although they have venom-delivering spines on each of their two dorsal fins, spiny dogfish are preyed upon by cod, red hake, goosefish, other spiny dogfish, larger sharks, seals, and orcas.



Spiny dogfish are slim, with a narrow, pointed snout and characteristic white spots. They have two dorsal fins with ungrooved large spines and are colored grey above and white below. Males grow up to 3.3 feet, and females grow up to 4 feet.



Scientists from NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct trawl surveys to assess the abundance of spiny dogfish. The spring survey relative biomass estimates (three-year average) of spiny dogfish increased from the mid-1970s to 1993 but then gradually declined. However, mature biomass (individuals 80 centimeters or larger, mostly females) declined much more rapidly. Estimates peaked at about 250,000 metric tons in 1990, declined to less than 100,000 metric tons in 1999, and have been increasing since that time. Length frequency data from various surveys indicate that the average size of females 80 centimeters or larger has declined from about 94 centimeters in the 1980s and early 1990s to 84 centimeters in recent years. These changes are consistent with the declining trend in the body size of spawning females.



Spiny dogfish was classified as overfished in 1998 due to declines in mature female dogfish, the result of over-harvesting. Managers implemented strict regulations to rebuild the stock. The amount of mature females (spawning stock biomass) has begun to increase over the past several years. Scientists have determined that the spiny dogfish spawning stock biomass now exceeds the target level and has been rebuilt since 2010. However, they project spawning stock biomass may decline somewhat in the coming years due to the low number of pups born during the 1990s when spiny dogfish were heavily fished. This potential decline is not expected to result in the stock becoming overfished again.



In January 2011, NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center launched a cooperative initiative to tag spiny dogfish in the Gulf of Maine, Southern New England, and Georges Bank. This project is designed to answer longstanding questions about stock structure, movement patterns, and life history to update and improve dogfish stock assessments.


Harvesting Spiny Dogfish

Gillnet and longline vessels target Atlantic spiny dogfish, mainly in state waters, but they're also often caught incidentally in trawl, gillnet, and longline fisheries for groundfish species.

Trawls can impact habitat, depending on where they are used. Managers have implemented a variety of measures for groundfish trawl fisheries to protect habitat, including closing some areas to fishing and modifying fishing gear to reduce contact with habitat. Trawl and gillnet fisheries for groundfish can incidentally catch other fish and marine mammals (large whales, harbor porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, etc.) and sea turtles. Restrictions on gear and fishing effort in these fisheries reduce these interactions.



Who’s in charge?NOAA Fisheries; the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
Current management: The Mid-Atlantic Council leads the joint management of the Spiny Dogfish Fishery Management Plan

  • Annual catch limit, allotted between two quota periods that divide up the fishing year.
  • Limit on the amount fishermen can harvest during one fishing trip to control the catch rate.
  • Fishermen must have a permit to harvest spiny dogfish.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission implemented the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Spiny Dogfish in state waters, establishing complementary regulations to the federal ones.


Annual Harvest

In 2012, about 28 million pounds of spiny dogfish were harvested in the Atlantic. More than half of the harvest was landed in Massachusetts.



In 2012, the spiny dogfish harvested in the Atlantic were valued at $5 million. Although domestic demand for spiny dogfish is low, the U.S. commercial fishery supplies European markets that use dogfish for fish and chips in England and as a popular beer garden snack called shillerlocken in Germany. There is also a small scientific fishery in Maine, which uses spiny dogfish to study several of the species’ unique biological characteristics. For example, studies of dogfish rectal glands help scientists better understand the function of human kidneys. Dogfish also secrete a compound called squalamine, which has strong antibiotic characteristics and shows promise as an anti-cancer agent.



Recreational fishermen don’t target spiny dogfish, and usually release them when captured while targeting other species. Recreational fishing accounts for less than 1 percent of total landings. No regulations apply to recreational catch.



Caught in fisheries in Canada, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, spiny dogfish has a sweet, mild flavor. Its texture is flaky but firm, and it has higher oil content than mako or other sharks. The raw meat is white. The outer flesh can have a reddish hue, which turns brown when cooked. The rest of the meat remains white when cooked.

Dogfish meat should have a faintly sweet smell and, although a slight metallic odor is acceptable, it should not smell like ammonia. Sharks lack a traditional urinary tract, so they concentrate urea in their blood and excrete it through their skin. As soon as a dogfish is caught, it must be gutted, bled, and chilled. Otherwise, the urea remains in the flesh (evidenced by an ammonia smell within 24 hours).






Shark is a low-fat source of protein and is high in selenium and vitamins B6 and B12. Shark may contain amounts of methylmercury in excess of the FDA’s recommended limit for nursing moms, moms-to-be, and young children. For more information, see EPA and FDA advice on what you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish. disclaimer

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 130
Protein 20.98 g
Fat, total 4.51 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.925 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 51 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 79 mcg

Atlantic Spiny Dogfish Table of Nutrition