Hey, don’t shoot dogfish!
Amia calva is the Latin name given to a fish that still swims today, even though it dates to roughly 150 million years ago – the Mesozoic era.
Despite its history, we can refer to it as a “modern” fish because it is highly evolved and thrives throughout the Great Lakes to this day. Still, the fish has a long list of “primitive” features such as tube-like nostrils, a bony gular plate, and the ability to gulp air and absorb oxygen from it by using its lung-like gas bladder.
The fish has a host of nicknames: bowfin, grindle, mudfish. But here in Wisconsin, we mostly call them dogfish.
I clearly remember encounters with dogfish when I was a child. My grandparents had a cottage on a clear-water lake, and I spent many days perched on the deck of a moored Crest pontoon boat slowly filling the basket with eating-size panfish.
Occasionally a shadowy fish would be spotted cruising shoreline. An undulating dorsal fin allowed the fish to portage through shallow water, and left no doubt that the creature was a dogfish. Not hard to catch with a carefully placed nightcrawler, landing them on a buggy-whip glass rod and green Johnson reel was a different story. Those that failed to escape were dutifully tossed to the bank because “they eat fish’s eggs.”
Now, tossing a spirited fish on the bank never felt right, and it turns out it wasn’t. There is no evidence that the dogfish eat fish eggs.
Research on the diet of dogfish reveals a preference for crayfish (82 percent), followed by shallow water baitfish (9 percent), and a balance made up of aquatic invertebrates and detritus.
Fact is, the dogfish is a native member of our aquatic ecosystem, and there is no biological justification for removing them.
According to a fisheries biologist friend, removing dogfish could result in more harm to the aquatic ecosystem than good. Because the dogfish is so well-suited to shallow, low oxygen habitats, they are an efficient predator of juvenile carp.
August is a popular month for bowfishing. If removing a harmful species is the objective of your bowfishing outings, please pass on those dogfish and focus instead on nonnative fish such as common carp.
Leave the dogfish out there to help fight those carp and lucky anglers alike