Four Western Isles fishing boats are to begin gathering vital data on by-catch of spiny dogfish from Monday (August 13th), in a new bid to allow targeted fishing of the protected species.

Spiny dogfish, a small shark species which is sold as huss in chip shops in England, is a seasonal visitor to the Minches, often accidentally caught as by-catch and discarded by island fishermen.

It’s also known as spurdog or picked dogfish. Under EU legislation it has been illegal to land the fish for over 20 years under what’s known as the Spurdog bycatch avoidance programme.

Now four vessels – two from Barra and two from Stornoway – are to begin collecting data on how many of the fish are caught, whether they are dead or alive and how much is discarded back into the sea.

The data they gather will be sent on to the headquarters of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in Lowestoft, where it will be collated together. The base information will then help check the impact of a test-project, due to start in October and involving the same four fishing vessels.

Western Isles Fishermen’s Association spokesman Duncan MacInnes said: “There are no dogfish just now in the Minches, and it’s just as important for the scientists to know that. The skippers will report every day to the scientists at Lowestoft because the preparation work has to be done first.

“When the dogfish do come to the area, from about October to January and again in May, selected vessels will be allocated an allowance to land them, up to two tons per month.”

Spiny dogfish were formerly caught in the Minches in the 1990s, but catching them at the wrong time of the year endangered their numbers.

The species has live-born ‘pups’ and were too frequently caught when the young were just about to be born. It’s hoped the Western Isles project will help develop a new chance to catch them commercially without damaging future stocks.