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January 02, 2014

Cape Cod's Cod Comes from Iceland, Dogfish on Deck

NPR reports that the New England fishing industry is turning to Iceland for cod and to dogfish in our waters as a substitute for New England Atlantic cod.

Next time you look down at the fish in your fish and chips, note that what was historically made of cod, may now be dogfish.

NPR reports that cod "once sustained New England's fishing industry, but in recent years, regulators have imposed severe catch limits on cod, and the fish remain scarce."

According to an interview with a local restaurant owner on the Cape, most restaurants serve cod from Iceland instead of the local fishery. The cost in price has increased because of the shortage of cod within the area.

New England fishermen are now fishing for a substitute — dogfish.

NPR spoke with Chris Duffy, manager of a fish wholesaler in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In his warehouse, Duffy showed off vats of freshly caught dogfish packed on ice. Most of it will be shipped overseas to Asia and Europe.

"This fishery has been declared a federal disaster," says Chris Duffy, manager of fish wholesaler Cape Ann Seafood Exchange.

Duffy and other fish wholesalers are trying to build a local market for dogfish. But it's a hard sell. In America, he says, it's just not popular.

"I know what they do with dogfish. They send it to England mostly, and the English use it as fish and chips — and I believe that's why they put vinegar on their fish and chips," says Romeo Solviletti, the manager of Connolly's Seafood just down the block from Cape Ann Seafood Exchange.

NPR missed a couple of points.

It might also be even a harder sell for dogfish, if U.S. restaurant patrons find out that the Environmental Defense Fund issued a health advisory for dogfish, due to elevated levels of mercury. It adds that only adult men should ever eat dogfish and then no more than 1x/month based upon EPA guidance and the latest mercury data.

In addition to the mercury concern, the dogfish population, specifically Atlantic spiny dogfish, was listed by NOAA Fisheries as “recovered” in 2010.

According to the National Oceanic and Athmospheric Adminstration (NOAA), when there was a decline in European dogfish stocks, U.S. commercial fishermen stepped up and started fishing for the species. From 1987 to 1996, harvests increased nearly 10-fold. The fishermen primarily targeted larger dogfish, which tended to be female. This removal of mature female dogfish led to a decline in population. NOAA states that "by 1998, scientists found the spiny dogfish stock had fallen below the minimum level determined to be sustainable."

To rebuild the stock, an annual catch was established. In 2010, NOAA Fisheries announced that the spiny dogfish was rebuilt.

With the cod population deteriorating and dogfish now being fished as a substitute, after a recent recovery, seems like this action is on a seesaw: with cod touching the ground and dogfish in the air.