An Introduction to Shark Meat

 
 Piles of dead sharks by Pangea Seed Foundation

Piles of dead sharks by Pangea Seed Foundation

 

Shark Meat is a Growing Market

While the shark fin trade is still the biggest offender when it comes to shark mortality, the market for shark meat is also of great concern. In areas where overfishing has decimated other fish populations, sharks are increasingly hunted for their meat. Often the meat by itself would not be worth enough to make shark fishing profitable if the fins weren't also sold. Fishing fleets from around the world supply Asian markets with fins, while the meat is being diverted along separate supply channels to meet demand in growing markets around the world. In some cases, countries with stricter laws will land sharks, fully knowing that they cannot market the meat due to contamination levels. They then pass the meat on to another country with less stringent standards. 

To further complicate the issue, available data of import and exports cover only a portion of what is actually cut and traded. The species of shark being traded is only rarely identified in trade records, making it difficult to trace the sale of endangered species. 

It is a complex dynamic driven by a consumer market that may be ill informed and a commercial fishing industry that aims to stay in business by creating more demand for anything that comes from a shark. 

 

How is shark prepared?

Unprocessed shark meat is known to spoil quickly and possesses a strong ammonia odor due to its high urea content. Brining the meat or marinating it for an extended period of time can remove the odor.

As cod populations have decreased, dried shark has become increasingly popular in many countries where salt cold has been popular. For the most part, shark meat is cut into steaks and fillets and is prepared similarly to any other large marine fish.

In Asia, it is consumed dried, smoked or salted. In Italy, France and the United States, shark meat is served at fancy restaurants to flaunt the chef's culinary skills. There are also localized delicacies such as in Iceland, where they serve hákari (buried, fermented and dried shark meat) and Trinidad, where "Bake and Shark" is popular. 

 

Where is shark meat eaten?

It is eaten in many countries around the world. Most notably in Japan, India, Sri Lanka, North America, Korea, Brazil, Australia, Iceland, the U.K., Germany France, Scandinavia and a number of countries in East Africa. European and North American markets seem to have a preference for dogfish species (a smaller shark), although this is possibly influenced by regulations that prevent the import of larger shark species due to high mercury content. In contrast, demand in South and Central American and Asian markets appear to be mainly for larger species. The Republic of Korea is notable for imports of skate and ray meat. There also seems to be an increased online market for shark jerky. 

Many people may not even realize they are eating sharks. It is often sold under misleading labels and names, such as flake, sea ham, imitation crab and whitefish. Rock salmon, which is really spiny dogfish, used to be commonly used in fish and chips. 

Here is a comprehensive list of names for shark meat published by Vision Dive: https://www.visiondive.com/deceptive-names-for-shark-meat/

 

How much shark meat is sold?

Global trade data show the trade in shark meat expanding steadily over the last decade or so. 

121,641 tonnes ($379.8 million) of meat imported in 2011, according to the latest FAO figure. That is a 42% increase from 2000. 

This growth is probably driven in large part by the global demand for seafood. Sharks used to be considered a low grade fish. But since wild fish stock is becoming extremely limited, catching shark has become the alternative. 

Here is an in depth article on the state of European fisheries: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/big-fish-big-trouble-europe

Another reason may also be the implementation of finning regulations that countries have implemented, such as requiring for the carcass to be landed whole (with fins attached) promoting the development of markets for shark meat. 

If you want to dig deeper, read this full report: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4795e.pdf

 

Laurel Irvine