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Pacific Spiny Dogfish

Squalus suckleyi

Illustration of a Pacific Spiny Dogfish.

Also Known As

  • Dogfish
  • Spring dogfish
  • Spiked dogfish
  • Grayfish
  • Spur dog
  • Piked dogfish

U.S. wild-caught Pacific spiny dogfish is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

The West Coast stock is above target population levels. The population levels are unknown for Pacific spiny dogfish in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Fishermen generally do not directly target spiny dogfish in waters off the Pacific Coast and Alaska. As a result, there are no habitat impacts from a directed fishery.

Bycatch

Fishermen generally do not directly target spiny dogfish in waters off the Pacific Coast and Alaska. As a result, there are no bycatch impacts from a directed fishery.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Alaska to California.

  • Taste

    Sweet, mild flavor and a higher oil content than mako or other sharks.

  • Texture

    Flaky yet firm.

  • Color

    Raw meat is white. The outer flesh can have a reddish color, which turns brown when cooked. The rest of the meat is white when cooked.

  • Health Benefits

    Shark is a low-fat source of protein that is high in selenium and vitamins B6 and B12. More information on health and seafood.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

Harvest

  • In 2016, commercial landings of Pacific spiny dogfish off the West Coast totaled 635,807 pounds and were valued at $68,165.
  • Spiny dogfish is a low-value species and is mostly taken as bycatch in Pacific coast–based fisheries targeting other commercially important species.
  • There are currently no directed commercial fisheries for shark species in federally or state-managed waters of Alaska. Spiny dogfish are caught incidentally in fisheries for halibut and groundfish. Nearly all shark catch is discarded at sea, but some spiny dogfish are retained as incidental catch in state-managed fisheries.
  • Spiny dogfish are generally not targeted by anglers off the Pacific coast or Alaska. However, due to their aggressive feeding nature, spiny dogfish tend to bite baited hooks and are incidentally caught in many recreational fisheries.
  • Off the Pacific coast, spiny dogfish are considered a bottomfish so they are restricted by the recreational coastwide aggregate limit (although most are released because they’re not highly valued) as well as all other applicable bottomfish recreational restrictions (depth, season, etc.).
  • In Alaska, anglers have annual bag limits for sharks of any kind.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2011 stock assessment, Pacific spiny dogfish on the West Coast are not overfished, and the complex (“other fish complex”) they are managed under is not subject to overfishing.
  • In the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska, spiny dogfish are managed and assessed as part of shark complexes. These complexes were last assessed in 2016, but data are insufficient to determine whether the complexes are overfished. However, overfishing is not occurring for either complex and there are currently no directed fisheries for spiny dogfish in Alaska.

Location

  • Pacific spiny dogfish are found from the Bering Sea to Baja California.
  • They are more common off the U.S. West Coast and British Columbia than in the Gulf of Alaska or the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region.

Habitat

  • Spiny dogfish live in waters as deep as 4,050 feet but most are found in waters less than 1,150 feet deep.
  • They are common in inland seas, such as San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound, and in shallow bays from Alaska to central California.
  • They exhibit a variety of seasonal and daily movement patterns. Some animals migrate to warmer waters in winter, while others stay in colder waters. They tend to move shallower during the day and deeper at night.
  • Males are generally found in shallower water than females, except for pregnant females that enter shallow bays to pup.
  • Immature juveniles live in the water column near the surface. As they grow older, they settle to the bottom.
  • Spiny dogfish often travel in large schools, largely to protect themselves from predators, and avidly feed during their journeys. The schools include hundreds, if not thousands, of dogfish and tend to divide up according to size and gender, although the young—both male and female—tend to stay together.
  • They can travel long distances – a spiny dogfish tagged in Queen Charlotte Sound (off British Columbia) was recovered off the northeast coast of Japan years later.

Physical Description

  • Spiny dogfish are slim with a narrow, pointed snout and distinctive white spots.
  • Their bodies are gray above and white below.
  • True to their name, they have sharp spines in front of each of their two dorsal fins.

Biology

  • Spiny dogfish live a long time, sometimes more than 80 years.
  • They grow slowly, up to more than 4 feet and 22 pounds, although adults are generally 2½ to 3½ feet long.
  • Spiny dogfish aren’t able to reproduce until they’re older – females mature at an average age of 35, males mature at an average age of 19.
  • Female spiny dogfish are internally fertilized, and pups are retained in utero for 18 to 22 months. Depending on their size, female spiny dogfish can have up to 22 pups each reproductive cycle.
  • Females generally release their young during the fall in shallow bays.
  • The newborn pups range in length from 8½ to 12 inches.
  • Spiny dogfish are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever prey is available. They mainly eat small, schooling pelagic fish such as herring, and small invertebrates such as shrimp, crab, and squid.
  • They are preyed upon by larger species of shark, including larger spiny dogfish, and by larger fishes (such as cod and hake), seals, and killer whales.

Research

  • Spiny dogfish have been the subject of electromagnetic field research due to their unique Ampullae of Lorenzini organs, found in other elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays). Ampullae of Lorenzini are organs around the mouth that are filled with fluids that help neurons detect changes in electromagnetic fields generated by movements of prey. Some researchers have also theorized that the bottom-dwelling elasmobranchs use electromagnetic fields generated from changes in sea floor substrate to assist with migration patterns.
  • Because spiny dogfish have skeletons made of cartilage rather than bone, they have a different mechanism for producing what are referred to as “B” (bone marrow) cells in bony vertebrates. In elasmobranchs, these cells are generated outside the skeleton, instead of in the bone marrow. Studying this phenomenon, as well as dogfish renal glands (which produce certain compounds shown to have some success in combating HIV virus particles and cancer cells), may have value in the development of future biomedical treatment therapies for humans.
  • NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center Shark Research

Last updated: 06/16/2018