When people think of sharks, the frightening image of a top apex predator prowling the world’s oceans probably jumps to the forefront of their minds.
Many people wouldn’t look at a shark, drooling and salivating because they can’t wait to have it for dinner. However, people do eat – and enjoy – shark meat.
In 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commonly known as NOAA, pushed for consumers to buy shark meat from U.S.-based fisheries because it’s deemed a sustainable food source.
We’ll cover the highly justified & necessary campaigns against shark finning and harvesting endangered shark species. But for now, it is important to note that sharks, like mammals, are a diverse Class of animals with a range of species & habitats (unlike dolphins, which are a Family within the Class Mammalia).
As NOAA is a federal agency, the U.S. government literally advocated for people to put shark meat (from sustainable fisheries & species) on their plates – or start eating more of it.
Price of Meat does remind readers that purchasing & consuming meat in violation of the Lacey Act or Endangered Species Act is not only super-illegal, but also super-uncool. Please be cool and go above and beyond in support of conservation. Learn what you can do to support endangered sea life today.Price of Meat Editorial Team
Are Sharks Hunted Anymore?
Sharks are still hunted throughout the world. There wouldn’t be a demand for shark meat without it being harvested.
What’s important to pay attention to is how sharks are hunted. Not all ways of harvesting sharks for meat are legal or ethical. And, like large mammals & predators, there’s also a divide between legality and ethics.
Unfortunately, there are some places that do not honor worldwide conservation efforts to protect sharks or have huge black markets for their meat.
Ethical Concerns About Shark Hunting
Make no mistake. All over the world’s seas, shark populations are dwindling with many species taking up unfortunate slots on global endangered lists.
While sharks may rule the oceans, humans have been culling the seas for food and resources since time began. Some of the most common reasons that the number of sharks has shrunk include:
- Shark finning: cutting a shark fin for food, tools, or ornaments.
- Byfishing: sharks caught as a byproduct while targeting a different fish population
- Overfishing: depleting shark populations because more are caught than necessary
Shark finning is considered cruel because it can involve live sharks not surviving the procedure. Finning is the practice of only removing the fins, tossing the shark back into the water, and letting it suffer a slow death.
From a culinary standpoint, that’s extremely wasteful because only 95 percent of the shark gets used. Ethically, it’s undeniably brutal.
Like turtle soup, shark fin soup may be a tradition, but it’s a culinary tradition that must end and move into the history books.
Byfishing and overfishing are inconsiderate and excessive, respectively. While each is a problem for sharks and other marine life, these issues are less targeting than finning.
The common threads that run through each part of the ethical concerns about shark hunting are irresponsibility, greed, and disregard.
However, there is good news! There are concerted efforts all over the world to either reestablish dwindling shark populations or protect the species that are endangered.
What’s Different About Shark Meat Markets in the U.S.
NOAA manages about 43 different species of shark, which are all from the Atlantic Ocean. None of those species are considered endangered (though some, like the Great White are listed as vulnerable or threatened).
There are shark species that are in higher demand than others by commercial markets. Interestingly, those more popular edible sharks have experienced a population boom. Increased demand created a need to increase supply.
So, the U.S. government employed conservation strategies to extend further protection to those species which actually bumped up those shark populations.
NOAA follows the laws set forth by the Endangered Species Act which protects sharks in U.S. waters. So, shark meat markets in the United States are ethically managed.
Is Shark Meat Good To Eat?
Now that the ethics have been covered, it’s time to dig into everything that some people find delectable about shark meat.
Shark is considered a delicacy. You would have to go to very specific areas, markets, or eating venues to find it.
However, there are people that will travel miles to get shark meat because they thoroughly enjoy its taste. Those factors also contribute to its meat being a bit expensive and harder to locate.
Yet many will swear that it’s well worth the hunt.
Species such as blacktip shark, mako shark, and thresher shark lead the list of what’s deemed to be the tastiest type of meat. Sometimes, to encourage consumption, shark meat might be called by other names on restaurant menus.
Look for fish such as whitefish or grayfish. It may also be called flake. You might even come across shark meat in grocery stores and never know it. Surimi, a popular ingredient substitute for people that are allergic to shellfish, sometimes contains shark meat.
Besides whales, sharks are one of the largest aquatic animals that exist. Therefore, when shark meat is rendered, there is plenty of it.
The whitish flesh of sharks is thick and firm. Typically, this means it’s great for steaks and other hearty cuts of meat. When harvested, one shark can produce a lot of meat.
This is great for consumer demand and there is a healthy amount of it. As the demand for shark meat seems to be going up and not down, there is a large contingent of seafood lovers that will proudly proclaim that shark meat is absolutely divine.
Does Shark Meat Taste Like Fish?
Like other marine animals, a freshly harvested shark has a strong scent of ammonia. A shark’s physiology has a specific process. Sharks regulate body functions through osmosis, a biological transport system that keeps them alive.
During osmosis, sharks produce urea. Urea is a common waste product that living things produce and excrete to function
When sharks die, urea changes into ammonia, and the scent is very strong. For a lot of consumable marine animals, a strong scent of ammonia is usually a bad sign.
For shark meat, it’s the complete opposite. Heavy hues of ammonia signal good meat, but it can be staggering.
Chefs and other culinary artists have learned to address that issue by using marinades, brines, and other methods to take the ammonia smell out of the meat.
Instead, infusing it with extra flavor and proper preparation helps turn it into an amazing seafood dish.
Different people have different opinions on how shark meat tastes. Shark has been compared to a lean beef steak – like top round, which may have a lot to do with its thick and meaty composition.
Shark has also been said to taste similar to fish. Sometimes, that’s not necessarily due to the shark. It may have everything to do with the person.
Why People Taste Shark Meat Differently
Based on an individual’s DNA and food preferences, everyone’s taste buds are biologically diverse. For one person that can’t stand the taste of shark meat, there is another person that will love it.
That’s why some people prefer sweet to savory, some people prefer sour over sweet, some people like salt and some people don’t. Shark meat will taste wonderful to some, but not to others. The only way to know is to try tasting it.
Why Do We Not Eat Shark Meat?
There are multiple reasons that people sometimes avoid eating shark meat. Taboos, myths, fear factors, and a general lack of knowledge about sharks feed into why some people avoid eating shark meat.
In some cultures, particularly the Pacific Islands, sharks are revered as gods. That alone would discourage consuming an animal that has been worshiped by an entire culture for eons.
For people that are strongly opposed to eating animals or living organisms that have faced ecological threats, they wouldn’t be gung ho about a plate of shark meat being served to them.
Others may be negatively swayed by the fear factor. The ocean is a majestic and vast place. Many people are terrified by the sea and even more scared by what may leap out of it.
Think about Jaws, a 70s movie that still evokes a deep fear of sharks. Sensationalist media like Shark Week only perpetuates the myths. Sharks are seen by some as vicious predators that freely attack beachgoers when the mood strikes them.
There are a lot of misconceptions about sharks that feed people’s fear of them. Common myths about sharks include:
- All sharks attack people.
- Sharks are always hungry.
- All sharks are meat-eaters.
None of those things are true, but those myths persist anyway. The thing about people is that it can be difficult to consume things that we fear.
Sharks are one of those things and very offputting to some that may otherwise enjoy shark meat.
Is Shark Meat Toxic to Humans?
Like tuna and swordfish, shark meat is known to have a higher mercury content than other types of foods. As as apex predator, it is subject to bioaccumulation, so high ocean pollution tends to affect sharks more than other ocean life.
High levels of mercury are known to negatively impact the human nervous system. So, many people are wary about eating the flesh of sharks.
It is important to understand that mercury poisoning comes from long-term exposure to consistently high levels of it.
Shark meat is considered a delicacy, not a diet staple. It’s not meant to be everyday meat that’s served frequently. In moderation, a person can enjoy everything that shark meat has to offer without worrying about mercury poisoning.
If you’ve ever been curious about shark meat and want to try it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t!
Try going on a culinary adventure and giving shark a try. You may just find that it’s one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.