Spiny Dogfish, Skates, Smalltooth Sawfish—Oh My!
Did you know that sharks are widely recognized members of the group of fish called elasmobranchs? This group includes other fascinating fauna swimming off the shores of the United States, including dogfish, skates, rays, and sawfish. NOAA Fisheries plays a significant role in researching and managing these shark relatives. Our scientists focus on spiny dogfish, skates, and smalltooth sawfish due to their unique management challenges, whether they are closely monitored as a sustainable fishery, investigated to discover biological information, or protected as an endangered species.
Small Migratory Sharks
Spiny dogfish are small, migratory sharks that can be found in temperate waters worldwide. The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is the largest shark fishery in the country. In 2012, spiny dogfish landings off the northeastern United States exceeded 27 million pounds, the vast majority of which was exported. Atlantic spiny dogfish were declared overfished in the late 1990s, but through implementation of a fishery management plan, the fishery was successfully rebuilt as of 2010. Scientifically supported annual catch limits are now in place. NOAA Fisheries continues to monitor the population, and conducts research on spiny dogfish biology and ecology. Read more...
The Expansion of Skates
Numerous species of skates live in U.S. waters, and in recent years fisheries for skate “wings” (pectoral fins) have expanded dramatically. In 2012, over 29 million pounds of skates were landed off the northeastern United States, where the largest skate fisheries occur. While some species are highly abundant, others are considered overfished, making their management challenging. Currently, a science-based annual catch limit exists for the complex of seven skates found in the Northeast. However, basic biological information for a number of these species is lacking, and more research is needed. NOAA Fisheries strives to improve information on species-specific trends in catch that will help improve stock assessments and fisheries management. Read more...
Cousins of the Shark—Smalltooth Sawfish
Hailing from a family of elasmobranchs that were historically widespread in tropical to temperate coastal marine habitats and some freshwater areas, sawfish are cousins of the shark. Although sawfish are similar to sharks, their bodies are flattened dorso-ventrally and possess a large, flat “saw” with large teeth on each side. All known populations of sawfishes have significantly declined in size due to fishing and habitat loss. Historically, the smalltooth sawfish was found from North Carolina to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, but is now only found in southern Florida. Due to severe population decline and range contraction, in 2003 smalltooth sawfish were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The goal of the resulting recovery plan is to rebuild and ensure the long-term viability of the U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish in the wild, allowing for their recovery and subsequent delisting. NOAA Fisheries identified three main objectives for smalltooth sawfish research:
- Minimize human interactions and associated injury and mortality.
- Protect and/or restore smalltooth sawfish habitats.
- Ensure smalltooth sawfish abundance increases substantially and the species reoccupies areas from which it had previously been extirpated. Read more...