Fisherman and cookbook author Hank Shaw agrees that dogfish make the best “fish and chips” — “The meat is white as snow, very lean, and firmer even than halibut. And, eaten cold the next day, tastes astonishingly like cold fried chicken.”
Most of Europe and Asia, the major dogfish markets, think so, too; for years traditional English fish and chips were always made with dogfish, which leads to it being the poster child for the whacky results of targeting a species to either save or fish for.
Dogfish were considered a threatened species after a glut of over-fishing — all those English fish and chips — from 1987 to 1996.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) applied catch limits to the species in 1997. In 2010, NOAA declared dogfish stocks rebuilt. Harsh quota restrictions were lifted.
According to Kris Kristensen of Zeus Inc., the first dogfish processor in Gloucester, 10 million pounds of dogfish were landed in the 2011-’12 season, 1.5 million in Gloucester alone.
“And we could have landed a lot more,” Kristensen said. So the fishery was protected, but the Zeus processor acknowledges that “now there are an alarmingly huge bulk of (dog) fish; they consume a huge amount of resources that cod and haddock would be using.”
Gluts, overfishing, quotas, rebounds. These are the fish tales told when regulations target a species rather than consider the sea’s balanced eco-culture. Dogfish had a great market in Europe, got overfished, got protected, and now it’s back, trying to be the new darling. And it should be the new darling — there’s lots of it, and it tastes good. Many say that dogfish are the key to the survival of the small boats in Gloucester. But many also see the absurd yo-yo-ing that comes from focusing on a single species, rather than treating the oceans as a balance of ecology, and applying good fishing practices to its harvest.