The dogfish, commonly known as a sand shark (although that’s technically a very different, scarier species), are the only species commonly found in the Long Island sound. They can provide excitement for kids, but they are generally thought of as a pest amongst the hardcore fishing community. Although they do put up a fight, they don’t rival the striped bass or bluefish pound-for-pound, and most people don’t recognize their food value. They are generally caught on rod and reel accidentally when targeting fluke, sea bass, or striped bass, and they are considered a by catch.
However, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the lowly shark. These sharks make fantastic table fare, and they are one of, if not the most sustainable species to catch and eat in our waters. A quick google search will show you that the Dogfish are what fish and chips are sourced from in jolly ole England. Once the codfish stocks were wiped out in the eastern Atlantic, the English turned to dogfish for their fish and chips recipes. The meat was so tasty, and demand was so high, that their stocks are actually now considered to be depleted, and can no longer be targeted commercially. The exact same trend that occurred across the pond is happening right here in the states. Codfish stocks are decimated, and commercial fisherman are being forced to target other species which are more plentiful.
The only difference is, the catch from US commercial boats tends to go overseas, 99% of it according to commercial fisherman Brian Marder, of Marder Trawling Inc. NPR did a fantastic piece on this trend, and the push to drive demand for dogfish here in the states. UMass Amherst now serves many varieties of the dogfish in their cafeterias, with very positive reactions. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/07/508538671/would-you-eat-this-fish-a-shark-called-dogfish-makes-a-tasty-taco .
But overall, the dogfish really has not caught on in the states, and has a certain stigma that comes along with it. I think this has a lot to do with the culture and also privilege of anglers in North America. Unlike the Old World, the western Atlantic is still relatively abundant with species. We thankfully have not completely overfished our waters yet, but we’re certainly going in that direction. Americans have had the privilege over the past few centuries to harvest fish that are delicious eating, convenient, and also nice on the eyes, species like the Striped Bass. The same striped bass which were fished to near extinction in the 80s, prompting a moratorium on killing the fish, that was adopted by most states on the eastern seaboard.
The dogfish, on the other hand, have only one of these three attributes: they certainly are delicious. They are not aesthetically pleasing, or convenient; which is likely why they are so abundant. When I say convenient, I mean fish that not only yield a lot of meat per pound, but are also easy to filet. Dogfish require a different technique to filet that most anglers aren’t versed in. But once you get it down, these fish are downright fantastic eating. The Youtube-famous, New York based fisherman Elias Vaisberg concurs, check out his YouTube video pitting the shark against flounder, porgy, and brown trout. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuTAKW9IMUI You’ll see, all the taste testers agree the dogfish make a mighty fine meal.
This season, I challenge you to keep some dogfish, break the stigma and swallow your macho man pride (as well as the shark). It is our duty at anglers to monitor the species we hunt, and at times, check the species. It is without doubt that striped bass are dwindling, and good numbers of sizeable flounder or sea bass are really hard to come by consistently; meanwhile the number of anglers on the water is only increasing. There are quite frankly too many of them, as any bottom-fisherman know, and they eat anything and everything edible in their path. We need to help keep the ecological balance before our species follow the way of the English dogfish and the cod. The next time you’re lamenting a tough day on the water, keep a ‘doggie. I promise you won’t be disappointed.