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Our Smaller Sharks also need our Support

Updated: Mar 25

Just over 8 months ago I dialled into an Angling Trust webinar about Spurdog. Prior to this I viewed Spurdog as a nuisance fish as once they are on the feed it can be difficult to avoid them. By the end of the webinar however, my opinion had moved to one of respect as this species has an extremely challenging reproductive cycle.

Knowing this, and also with their commercial value being so low, I was surprised when I heard that Defra had decided to re-open the UK Spurdog fishery earlier this year. What was an even greater surprise was when we learned that Defra are now considering a proposal from the commercial sector to increase the slot size from 100cm to 125cm. This move would allow the targeting of larger Spurdog which will predominately be valuable female breeding stock.

To understand the significance of this you need to know that female Spurdog do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 15 years old and that their pregnancy lasts for up to two years. The younger female Spurdog have smaller pups which have a low survival rate but as the females get older and larger, their pup sizes increase and so does their survival rate. A 100cm female Spurdog is around 20 years old whereas a 120cm female Spurdog is around 40 years old and her pups have a significantly increased survival rate. Managing the Spurdog fishery in a sustainable manner which is a requirement of the Fisheries Act (2020), requires the females to be protected.

Puffin Pirates crew member Dai with a near British Record Spurdog which was at least 50 years old - it was released and swam away strongly

Until now the Pat Smith Database trustees have focussed their efforts on the larger shark species (Blue, Porbeagle & Thresher) but recognising the risk to the Spurdog fishery if the slot size is increased meant we couldn’t ignore it. With this being a very important fishery for many in the recreational sea angling sector, we took the decision that our smaller shark species needed our help just as much as the larger ones.

So what have we done?

Knowing that Spurdog and other smaller shark species provide a welcome revenue stream to recreational sea angling charter skippers , and their local communities, we brought the Spurdogs dilemma to their attention. Very quickly we secured the agreement of 84 charter skippers and 1 tackle shop, all willing to sign a joint letter to Mark Spencer, the Fisheries Minister, to explain our concerns. This letter has been sent.

The Pat Smith Database, the PBA and the Angling Trust also sent letters to the Minister and a general template was produced to help those skippers, anglers and anyone else who is concerned about the negative consequences of allowing the targeting of the larger female Spurdog to lobby their MP directly. If you would like a copy please email us at

At this time we have not yet had any feedback from the Minister but we will update everyone when we do.

What more can we do?

Catch data is very important to help us understand how the marine environment is working. It can also be very useful when used to underpin a view or indeed to challenge another organisations views.

One example of this is when we utilised the Pat Smith Blue Shark Timeline Database, which is the largest in the world, to help ICCAT introduce a maximum total allowable catch (TAC) on the commercial take of Blue Shark.

Two years ago we started to collect catch and release data for Tope as there were rumours of a move to ban recreational sea angling for this species. This database continues to grow but we are keen to increase the number of contributors to it.

The Spurdog slot size increase proposal has led us to take the decision to add Spurdog, and Smoothound to this dataset. We already have some data for these species but we would really like to increase it.

Unlike many marine database holders we will never share your data with anyone. We analyse the data and where relevant share the results of the analysis so decisions can be taken on a better informed basis. We also ensure our contributors are kept fully informed of the analysis work we are doing, and its purpose.

Contributors can ask for their data to be excluded in an analysis if they are not comfortable with it and their data can be removed from the database at any time.

We produce scientific papers to share our findings and skipper contributors are listed as contributors on these documents.

Its a sobering thought that we know more about the moon than we do about our oceans.

We are happy to receive whatever data you have but the minimum we need is the date and number of hours you were fishing, the port you were fishing from, the numbers caught of the species being monitored and how many were female.

The majority of skippers message or text us with this information on the way back to port but we will work with you in whatever way suits you best.

It is not a given that we will have healthy levels of fish stocks and neither is it a given that we will be allowed to continue to fish for them. The recreational sea angling sector are Experts by Experience and are therefore uniquely placed to play a key role in developing sustainable fisheries to be enjoyed by future generations so if you share this vision and want to get involved and help protect the Spurdog and other shark species please get in touch.

Update March 2024

Representatives from the Angling Trust and the Pat Smith Database met today with the new Defra policy team leading on spurdog management. During the meeting, we emphasised the importance of large spurdogs to both the recreational sector and the overall sustainability

of the stock.

Having already lived through one population crash, over 80 recreational charter skippers have signed a letter to the Fisheries Minister, Mark Spencer, calling for the government to continue with a precautionary approach to reopening the commercial fishery and

maintaining the 100cm slot size.

In our view, spurdog are worth far more to the recreational sector than to the commercial sector, where they are often fetching a mere 30p/kilo.

We voiced concern over the government seeking to invest in expanding commercial markets and processing infrastructure for spurdog when there seems to be little demand for them. The UK government must not continue with boom-and-bust fisheries management.

We are also calling for Defra to fund a study on the recreational socio-economic value of the spurdog fishery to ensure government can make informed decisions that account for the needs of all stakeholders.

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