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Information Summary for Consultations on the Proposed Listing of Spiny Dogfish (Atlantic Population) as “Special Concern” Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)

As part of the consultation process, the Government of Canada would like to hear your comments on the potential impacts of listing Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias), Atlantic populationas “special concern” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has prepared this summary to provide information on the status of the Spiny Dogfish in Atlantic Canada.

What is the Species at Risk Act?
As part of its strategy for the protection of species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. One of the purposes of the SARA is to provide for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of biological diversity. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has the mandate to conduct assessments on the status of wildlife species and categorize them according to their level of risk for extinction (extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, or special concern). The Government of Canada considers the scientific evidence, the comments received from Canadians during consultations, and the potential socio-economic impacts before making a decision whether or not to include the species on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under SARA. Recovery planning is undertaken for all listed species, and prohibitions are put in place protecting species assessed as extinct, extirpated, endangered or threatened, from being harmed.

About Spiny Dogfish

Spiny Dogfish

Spiny Dogfish are small (average length: 75-105 cm) grey-brown sharks that have small spines in front of both dorsal fins. This species is an opportunistic predator that feeds on many different kinds of prey, including shrimp, crab, and scallop, as well as many different kinds of fish. 

Dark grey areas represent the global distribution of Spiny Dogfish.

Dark grey areas represent the global distribution of Spiny Dogfish

Spiny Dogfish occur world-wide, most commonly in coastal waters. In the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, Spiny Dogfish are most abundant between Cape Hatteras and Nova Scotia, with few sightings occurring north of the Grand Banks. In Canadian waters the species is highly concentrated in the Scotian Shelf region.

Proposed SARA Status: “Special Concern”
The level of protection and recovery actions undertaken for a species listed under SARA depends on its assessed level of risk for extinction. Spiny Dogfish has been assessed by COSEWIC as a species of “special concern”. This is the lowest level of risk category and indicates that this species is not presently endangered, but is considered to be sensitive to human activities and natural events due to biological factors and/or threats. Spiny Dogfish was designated “special concern” in part due to its late age of maturity and long gestation period which makes population growth slow and vulnerable to human activities such as over-fishing. If listed under SARA as “special concern”, Spiny Dogfish will not be subject to prohibitions, meaning that it will not be illegal to harm an individual of this species.

Threats to the Species
Globally, over-fishing is considered the main threat to Spiny Dogfish. In Canadian waters, Spiny Dogfish are harvested commercially, with most landings being taken by hand-line and long-line on the Scotian Shelf (Northwest Atlantic Fishing Zone 4X). The species is also caught as by-catch and discarded in multiple fixed and mobile gear fisheries.

Special Significance of the Species
Spiny Dogfish is not part of a directed Aboriginal commercial fishery, although it is a by-catch species in some trawl fisheries. It is not known if Spiny Dogfish vessels has any historical significance to Aboriginal peoples or local communities, but is not known to be a food, social, or ceremonial species.No Aboriginal or community traditional knowledge on these fish has been collected at this time.

Protection and Recovery of the Species under SARA
If Spiny Dogfish is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk as a species of “special concern”, it will not be subject to prohibitions under SARA; however DFO will be required to produce a SARA Management Plan for the species in an effort to ensure that it does not become endangered due to human activity. A SARA Management Plan will include conservation measures for the species and set goals and objectives for maintaining sustainable population levels. If the species is not listed under SARA, DFO could still develop a Management Plan for Spiny Dogfish under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Act.

Possible Management Measures if Listed Under SARA
If Spiny Dogfish is listed under SARA, DFO will, in collaboration and consultation with stakeholders and partners, use the best available information to develop a Management Plan, which could include setting sustainable quotas for Spiny Dogfish landings and by-catch, increased observer coverage in fishing fleets that regularly encounter Spiny Dogfish, and identifying gaps in our knowledge of the biology and ecology of the species that would need to be studied in order to better inform future management decisions.

Potential Socio-Economic Impacts of Listing Under SARA
A summary of the results of the socio-economic analysis conducted by DFO on the listing of Spiny Dogfish under SARA is available on request.

The Consultation Process – Your Comments
As part of the consultation process, the Government of Canada would like to hear your opinions on listing Spiny Dogfish as “special concern” under SARA, and any comments on the potential positive and negative impacts this listing would have on you, your industry, and/or the ecosystem. 

  1. How would your activities be affected if Spiny Dogfish was listed as “special concern” under SARA?

  2. What would be the environmental, social, cultural, and economic impacts of listing this species under SARA?

  3. Do you support listing Spiny Dogfish as “special concern” on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under SARA?  Why or why not?

  4. Do you represent an industry, community, Aboriginal community or organization, or other group?  If so, which group or sector do you represent?

To submit answers to the above questions, share your comments, or to receive further information about this species, please contact:

Species at Risk Management Division
Maritimes Region
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
1 Challenger Drive
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
B2Y 4A2