New protection for much-dogged shark

Last week, the Commerce Department locked in the first fishing quotas to rebuild northeastern-U.S. populations of the spiny dogfish, Squalus acanthias, shown here in a 1959 photo. Since the 1980s, the number of mature females in this region has fallen by 75 percent. Fleets target female adults because they are the population’s largest members.

National Marine Fisheries Service/Woods Hole

They can grow 3 to 5 feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds. Intense, unregulated harvests triggered the crash of this coastal, migratory fish—once deemed a trash species. A booming European market and a growing U.S. taste for the shark encouraged large hauls. Beginning May 1, the U.S. fleet may harvest only 4 million pounds from this fishery annually—a little more than 10 percent of its 1998 haul.

The new rule also prohibits any harvesting of the fish exclusively for its fins, an Asian delicacy, and will encourage a shift toward targeting males. As with other cartilaginous fish (SN: 5/1/99, p. 280), this long-lived shark matures slowly. It may not spawn until age 12 and then yields just 6 or 10 pups after each gestation of almost 2 years.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the editor of Science News for Students, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer.

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