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Sharks are often considered to be the apex predators of the seas with many people, even in landlocked countries having something of a phobia towards these giant fish. Despite this though, many cultures around the world such as Japan and China are known for hunting and eating shark meat. Naturally, then you may be wondering, can you eat shark meat?
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Do People Eat Shark Meat?
Believe it or not, over one hundred million sharks are hunted and killed each year by the fishing industry. Whilst this isn’t nearly as many as the number of pigs, cows or chickens that are slaughtered each year, this still shows that there a something of a demand for shark meat.
In some countries such as East Africa, Iceland and Greenland, shark meat is often considered a staple food. Whilst it is considered a delicacy it will also often be eaten due to necessity as a result of scarcity of other protein sources.
Meanwhile, in Asian countries such as China and Japan, shark meat has long been claimed to have many medicinal benefits. However, despite many of these claims being debunked in modern times, sharks meat is often still often consumed due to traditional reasons.
In some regions like America, however, shark meat is often considered to be a gourmet cuisine. This is typically a result of there being many regulations on shark fishing, along with the comparatively smaller supply and demand compared with other regions.
What Does Shark Meat Taste Like?
Depending on how shark meat is prepared and the type of shark in question the flavor can vary greatly. To many, it is comparable to white meat like chicken but with a similarly chewy consistency to something like alligator meat.
However, it can also have a strong ammonia odor due to the levels of urea shark meat contains a lot of the time. Meanwhile tastewise it is often comparable to the swordfish taste.
Once properly cooked though, shark meat will be dark white in color and have a mild flavor with some sweet notes.
If eaten raw such as in Japanese sashimi style though it will often be chewy and gummy. Typically, when eaten like this it will be served with a generous splash of soy sauce.
Is It Legal To Eat Shark Meat?
Contrary to popular belief shark meat is not illegal to eat, at least not in the United States of America. However, by comparison to other meat and fishing industries, the shark meat industry is rather small in the west.
That said though, whilst it is quite a niche delicacy in most of America, shark meat is more popular in some coastal areas of the United States such as Florida.
The consumption of shark meat is not illegal. However, what is illegal in both America and the United Kingdom is the process of shark finning, a process often used in the creation of shark fin soup.
The reason for this is that oftentimes the shark fins used in shark fin soup will be harvested from the shark, following which the rest of the shark will then be tossed back to the ocean. In some cases, this may even be done whilst the shark is still alive, meaning that it will subsequently die an agonising death.
The reason that this practice is so prevalent though is that many of the people who consume shark meat only want the fins. As such the demand and price of shark fins is significantly higher than that of other parts of the shark. This then leads to profit-driven fishing industries embracing finning rather than struggling to sell the less desirable cuts.
Not only is this practice cruel though, but it is also incredibly wasteful and potentially damaging to the environment as it means that more shark carcasses will be drifting in the sea when they could have potentially been used.
Is Consuming Shark Meat Safe?
Sharks are predatory fish meaning that their bodies will be potentially full of substances that are dangerous for human consumption. However, unlike eating barracuda or eating perch, it is strongly recommended by many that people should stop eating shark meat, especially from larger shark species or older fish.
The Dangers of Eating Shark Meat
Despite the supposed medicinal benefits some attribute to eating sharks, their consumption can be incredibly dangerous as all the toxic chemicals found in the prey and more can be found in much higher concentrations with shark meat. Some of the risks when you eat sharks are as follows, with these only becoming more potent the larger the shark in question is:
Urea In Shark Meat
One of the more odd and slightly disgusting facts about these predatory fish is that sharks urinate through their skin. As a result, the flesh of sharks will inevitably contain high levels of a chemical called urea.
Urea is a natural waste byproduct produced by the kidneys from protein consumption. In humans, this will be passed from the body in urine. For sharks though, it passes through the skin inevitably leading to some of this urea building up within the flesh itself.
This is what causes shark meat to smell weird and is also why in gourmet restaurants the chefs will often heavily season the shark meat in order to hide this smell. However, whilst the urea can be masked it can not be removed. As such due to this urea concentration, consuming shark meat can actually cause kidney damage since they are meant to help expel urea from the body.
The Presence Of Arsenic
In 2014, research conducted by Southern Cross University in Australia found that a large variety of some of the more commonly eaten species of shark in international markets contained dangerous levels of arsenic. In particular, the study found that meat from Sandbar, Dusky, Great White, Whale, Dwarf Pygmy, and Hammerhead Sharks all contained levels of arsenic that would be dangerous for human consumption.
Like with urea, arsenic can cause damage to the kidneys. However, it can also negatively impact your lungs, skin and liver. Additionally, it may also lead to heart attacks a stroke, cancer, and even death.
High Levels Of Mercury
Due to pollution in our seas, many sea creatures will contain at least trace levels of mercury. However, in many species of smaller fish and even mid-level predatory fish mercury poisoning is unlikely as they won’t expose you to significant mercury consumption.
However, in large apex predators of the sea such as sharks, there will be potentially dangerous mercury exposure. This is because the more creatures fish prey on, the higher, the levels of mercury will be passed up the food chain.
Many people may know that mercury is bad for your health. Despite that though, you may not know why it’s so dangerous. Amongst other symptoms, mercury poisoning can lead to cognitive impairment, damaged motor skills, tremors and headaches. Meanwhile, during pregnancy, it can cause significant cognitive damage to a developing fetus.
High Lead Content
Research in 2013 found that like how many sharks contain high arsenic levels, they also contain dangerous amounts of lead. Like with mercury though it was found that typically the larger the shark in question, the more lead it would contain. As a result, this means that some of the commonly consumed species tend to contain more lead, especially so with organ meat.
In humans, lead can be incredibly toxic and lead to a number of health complications. In minor cases, lead poisoning can cause abdominal pain or headaches. Meanwhile, in more serious cases it can lead to seizures, comas or in some cases even death.
Are Any Types Of Shark Safe To Eat?
Larger species of shark such as tiger sharks, great whites or hammerheads should be avoided as their larger sizes usually indicate high potencies of toxic substances such as mercury, urea, arsenic and lead.
That said though, some smaller species of shark such as mako shark, sand sharks, dogfishes, blacktip, thresher and leopard sharks will be safer to consume. However, even these should be eaten in extreme moderation to avoid any negative effects.
Answered: Can you eat shark meat?
Shark meat should be avoided in most situations due to both the ethical and health concerns associated with its consumption. However, so long as it is sourced in ethical ways and doesn’t come from larger breeds of sharks, or from older sharks you should be safe.
FAQ – Shark Eating
Why is shark meat not edible?
Many species of shark aren’t edible due to containing high levels of urea, mercury, arsenic and lead. Each of these is toxic to humans in several ways and can potentially lead to a number of health problems.
Can you eat shark in Florida?
Whilst many species of shark cannot be harvested in Florida nowadays some still can be and are. However, they are often only fished in smaller quantities these days in order to protect the local ecosystem and environment.