Published On: Mon, Nov 10th, 2014

Spiny dogfish – Squalus acanthias – small migratory shark

Spiny dogfish (image).

Spiny dogfish reach as much as 125cm in length but most average 800mm. Click picture to enlarge.

Spiny Dogfish

Other names for spiny dogfish: makohuarau, pioke

Flesh sold in fish shops as snow fillets

The Spiny dogfish – Squalus acanthias – is perhaps the most maligned fish in the sea around New Zealand. When anglers hook one the usual comment is, “Oh no, not another spiny dogfish!”

They are also called spurdog, spotty dog, Southern spiny dogfish, and several other names I won’t mention. I guess its hard to be appreciated when your name has “dog” in it. The premier inshore fish caught surfcasting would probably be elephant fish. The rig shark is also a popular catch with surfcasters being good eating and a strong fighter.

The spiny dogfish has sharp spines at the front of its dorsal fins (image).

The spiny dogfish has sharp spines at the front of its dorsal fins.

Around parts of the South Island, notably in the Canterbury Bight, the spiny dogfish is at times so plentiful it is almost impossible to catch any other species. I believe they’ve become the prevalent species due to other more desirable fish having been fished-out.

Spiny dogfish caught surfcasting at Colac Bay, Southland (image).

Spiny dogfish caught surfcasting at Colac Bay, Southland.

There has always been the spiny dog in huge numbers off Canterbury, though in the past there were plenty of other fish such as kahawai. Spiny dogfish seem to travel in schools. I have often seen in surfcasting contests where no one is catching fish. Then suddenly many anglers will hook up together on dogfish as a school passes along the beach.

Spiny dogfish fight like a wet sock on your line. A big one might be a metre long and weigh 4 kg. So they just don’t have the muscle mass to put up much of a struggle. Most dogfish caught surfcasting weigh between 3 and 4kg. Places like Lyttelton harbour may be nursery areas as I have caught small ones there under 30cm in length many times over the years.

You have to be careful of the spines, though not poisonous they can inflict a nasty jab, especially when fishing barefoot in the boat. Spiny dogfish like all sharks have a tendency to spin when hooked. If you get several on your gear they can quickly make a mess of your terminal rig tying it in knots!

At times this species can be a real pest. On many occasions I have been drift fishing big baits for makos, threshers and other big sharks, in a berley trail, only to have the baits taken by dogfish. Even using half a big kahawai for bait the dogfish soon strip my hooks.

However, spiny dogs make excellent eating. Yes, that’s right, you can eat them. The old-time Maori considered spiny dogfish to be better eating than school sharks. In the shops, the flesh is sold as snow fillets. Under this name, it is a good seller. Despite this, by far the majority of anglers won’t touch them! Worse still, some “anglers” have a disgusting habit of ensuring that they don’t catch the same dogfish twice by disabling them before tossing them over the side to be wasted.

Snow fillets from spiny dogfish (image).

Spiny dogfish fillets are sold in New Zealand fish mongers as “snow fillets.” They are very good to eat.

The best way to handle the flesh is, as with any fish you intend to eat, take the fillets off and get them into ice as quickly as possible after capture. I find that freezing improves the texture considerably. If you cook them without freezing first they tend to be mushy and unappetizing.

Spiny dogfish: is sold in the shops as snow fillets. It is actually quite expensive. The white fillets are firm and very good to eat when cooked by all methods. More about small sharks often caught by surfcasters.

About the Author

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Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.