Shark Meat, A Growing Market

Photo by PangeaSeed Foundation

Photo by PangeaSeed Foundation


Shark Fishing is on the Rise

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. 

And here is the twisted part of the story of shark meat: When lawmakers tried to prevent the cruel act of finning by establishing laws to require fishermen to land sharks whole, to avoid shark being dumped at sea, the intention was to reduce shark catch and waste of sharks for the fin market. But rather than fixing the problem, the people targeting sharks for their fins simply adjusted their practices. Since they still wanted to sell fins, they brought the sharks in whole and processed them on land. And in order to make it worth their while, there was a push to develop a greater demand for shark meat. This is a good example of the supply pushing the demand. This is probably one of the driving factors that have caused an increase in shark meat being sold.

This is the perfect example of why it is so critical to craft legislation that is effective. The lessons have been learned, at a great cost of shark populations. Outlawing the sale and trade of fins is currently the most effective way to go after the commercial sale of fins. Unless consumers completely stop buying shark fins and more protected areas are established, it may be the only tool we have to make progress in addressing finning and the global movement of fins.

Laurel Irvine