A New Project Supporting Population Recovery for an Endangered British Shark

07 Dec 2016

UK// Since 2010 the Shark Trust has worked collaboratively to address the issue of bycatch mortality for the Spurdog* (Squalus acanthias) in the seas off the Southwest of England.

In the Northeast Atlantic Spurdog is subject to a zero-Total Allowable Catch, meaning the shark must not be targeted or landed by any EU fishing vessel. However, within mixed fisheries a zero-Total Allowable Catch does not realistically lead to a zero catch of that particular species. Because Spurdog have a propensity to move in large aggregations (or shoals), vessels fishing for other species can on occasion find their nets and lines full of Spurdog ‘bycatch’ which must be discarded, dead or alive.

Why the Shark Trust supports this project

Aside from being a wasteful practice, by-catch mortality impacts on Spurdog’s population recovery. At the same time, as the EU discards ban** is phased in by 2019, Spurdog could become a ‘choke species’ within mixed fisheries: because they cannot be retained or landed when accidentally caught – and discarding will no longer be permitted – all fishing activity in that particular area would have to cease.

How the Spurdog By-catch Avoidance Project will work

Using a grid reference system, six vessels operating in Southwest waters will provide daily reports of Spurdog bycatch to piece together a near ‘real-time’ picture of the whereabouts of Spurdog hot-spots. This information will be used to produce daily ‘traffic light’ maps, providing skippers with a practical tool for avoiding Spurdog bycatch. In addition, as part of the project, a strictly managed bycatch allowance has been secured from the European Commission, permitting vessels participating in the project to land and market a limited volume of dead Spurdog. It is important to emphasise the project does not represent the opening of a target fishery for Spurdog, nor will it increase overall mortality for the species.

How the Shark Trust is supporting the project

With a focus on aiding population recovery of Spurdog in the Northeast Atlantic, the Shark Trust has supported the project since its beginning. On the ground, the Trust has worked with the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation and the Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) to develop a Code of Conduct for participating vessels, highlighting ‘best practice’ and maximising survival of discarded sharks. As a prerequisite for any sustainable fishery, the Trust supports full traceability of dead Spurdog that are landed and sold.

From the perspective of the fishing industry, the project provides skippers with a practical tool to make informed decisions on where and how they fish, and should ease some frustrations surrounding wasteful discards and concerns about potential choke species. The Shark Trust is committed to supporting this project – a pragmatic step forward for population recovery of an Endangered shark.

* Also known as the Spiny Dogfish (and less commonly as the Piked Dogfish, Picked Dogfish); listed as Endangered on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.

** Known officially as the Landing Obligation, under which all catches have to be kept on board, landed and counted against the quotas.


► Find out more about the project on the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) web-page.