Spiny Dogfish
Typical Size
30-35" (3-7 lbs.)
Decent Size
36-40" (8-12 lbs.)
Nice Size
40-45" (12-15 lbs.)
63" (20 lbs. 4 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

Genus/Species Squalus acanthias
Common Names spurdog, cape shark, sand shark
Hot Spots Stellwagen Bank, Stone Ledge, Scituate Harbor
Best Time May-October
Best Baits clam, mackerel, herring, squid
Best Method Bottom fishing with bait
Spiny dogfish are small sharks with a slate gray to tan coloring on their upper sides, becoming a pale white underneath. They are distinguished by having a row of white dots on each of their upper sides running from just after their head all the way to just in front of the second dorsal fin. These dots are large and more numerous in younger specimens, becoming smaller and less numerous in older individuals. It is a slender shark with two dorsal fins and gets it's name from a sharp spine located just after each of it's two dorsal fins. Caution needs to be taken when handling these fish - not because of their teeth which are tiny and harmless, but because they whip their tails around with this sharp spine, which is mildly venemous.
Spiny Dogfish
These small sharks are more nuisance than sport.
Spiny dogfish are the most common and numerous species of shark, living in a multitude of habitats, in all arctic and temperate waters worldwide. It has been found at the shoreline as well as waters over 2,000 feet deep. It is tolerant of a wide range of temperature and salinity and appears to swim at all levels of the water column. They travel in large "packs" and give birth to live "pups," hence the term dogfish. They eat just about anything including shrimp, crabs, worms, jellyfish, squid, octopus, lobster, and even starfish. However, the staple of their diet is fish. Because of the rather ubiquitous nature of the spiny dogfish, we are going to concentrate on the spiny dogfish that you'll encounter here on the south shore of Massachusetts.

Typically, the spiny dogfish of the eastern seaboard prefer water temperatures in the 55-65 degree range. During the winter they move offshore and southward. In the early spring they typically move northward and closer to shore, depending upon food availability. By mid-summer, southshore fishermen can find them off the beach, throughout the inshore waters, and even offshore at Stellwagen and Georges Banks. We usually see our first dogfish around mid-May when the mackerel begin pouring into the inshore harbors and bays. Our dogfish tend to be bottom dwellers and can be found in large schools over areas of heavy structure and even barren sandy areas.

It is not known precisely when spiny dogfish spawn, or if different individuals in different waters spawn at different times. It is known that spiny dogfish bear their young live. Once spawning has completed, the young grow inside the feamle dogfish for about a year and a half. Around a half dozen fully developed sharks are born when they are around ten inches long. Survival rates of these juvenile dogfish is high, considering how independent they are at birth.

This fish may just be the most hated fish on the south shore of Massachusetts. While many unwanted fish are considered a "nuisance," the spiny dogifish is a downright "pest." A nuisance is a fish that takes your bait, offers no fight or sport on rod and reel, and is either too small to be edible or tastes lousy. A pest is one with all the above characteristics but also drives away the fish you are trying to catch, steals the fish you want to catch right off your hook, and fouls up your line and terminal gear. That's the spiny dogfish for you.

If you wanted to catch spiny dogfish, you would find that it is a rather easy task. Dogs will take many different kinds of bait. Clam is probably the most popular but cut mackerel and herring are just as productive. A simple basic bottom rig with a 3-8 ounce sinker is sufficient for bottom fishing with bait.

You can also take spiny dogfish jigging, just ask any codfisherman. Using artificial jigs is more effective if there are schools of baitfish in the area such as herring or mackerel. Unfortunately, dogfish don't put up much of a fight on rod & reel, unless your lucky enough to foul hook one in tail.

Fishing for spiny dogfish is neither important commercially, nor recreationally. Recently, however, there has been some effort put on find commercial markets for dogfish, as they are regarded much higher in Europe, where a vast majority of spiny dogfish end up served as "fish-n-chips." Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, numbers of charter and party boats take passengers out on all-day cod trips and encounter big schools of spiny dogfish in the process. These fish tangle lines and create a real mess for fisherman from Boston to Plymouth. Although almost all recreationally caught dogfish are thrown overboard, they are actually very tasty if cared for after capture. Once caught, spiny dogfish should be dressed and placed on a bed of ice immediately. Failure to do so results in uric acid being released in their blood and contaminating the meat. When properly cared for, however, the flesh cooks up firm and white with a flaky texture and mild flavor. Filleted or cut in steaks, it can be fried, baked or broiled.