New Irish Fishing Quota for Vulnerable Spurdog
23rd February 2023
A new Irish quota for the IUCN listed vulnerable spurdog (Squalus acanthias) for 1,874 tonnes was announced for 2023. Minister McConalogue stated that “When we reopen the fishery, measures will be put in place to require that larger spurdog are avoided to allow them to breed and reproduce.” This will be difficult to enact due to the fact spurdogs aggregate in shoals and fishing methods to target this species will be indiscriminate. How will it be possible to ensure that fully mature, sexually reproductive individuals will not be caught in the crossfire?
The spurdog (listed as Endangered in the 2016 Irish Red List for Cartilaginous Fish) gets its name due to having spines at the base of its dorsal fins. It is a slender, streamlined shark which can live for up to 75 years. They are typically small with females reaching up to 122cm and males reaching 95cm. They are predominately found in coastal waters but can also be found in deep waters and are widely distributed from as far north as Iceland down to North-west Africa. It takes 10-15 years for them to reach sexual maturity and spurdogs give birth to live young. They have one of the longest gestation periods in the animal kingdom and carry their young for somewhere between 18 and 22 months. They typically have one litter every two years and the larger the female, the greater the number of pups (between 10 and 21 young). Like most other shark and ray species, the spurdog is slow growing, long lived and late to sexually mature. These are some of the reasons they are vulnerable to the pressures of fishing activity.
While according to ICES there has been an increase in spurdog numbers since the fishery was closed in 2011, this success story could easily be reversed with the reopening of the fishery. Spurdogs are a common victim of bycatch in many fisheries due to their shoaling nature, and bycatch from gill net and trawl fisheries usually results in the death of the animal. Careful consideration into the fishing methods allowed for the target of this species should be looked into to avoid entire shoals of mature individuals being killed.
In the EU they have been listed as a prohibited species which results in the species falling through a loophole in the Common Fisheries Policy Landing Obligation. This means that bycatch of spurdog does not have to be landed and reported and could be discarded at sea. This resulted in fishing pressure that was not reduced for this species and insufficient data on population numbers. We believe that because of this and the shoaling nature of these animals, the reopening of this fishery is premature and could be disastrous for this species. More data are needed to determine the status of this species before allowing commercial fishing to begin.