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British fish and chip shops found to be selling endangered shark meat


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DNA testing, conducted by the University of Exeter, has revealed the presence of endangered shark meat in British fish and chip shop produce. 

Spiny Dogfish

Image Credit: Doug Costa for the National Marine Sanctuaries Media Library from Wikipedia

The Spiny Dogfish Shark or Squalus Acanthias is considered critically endangered in North America, and endangered in Europe.

In 2010, The Telegraph reported that the species was to be removed from the menu in fish and chips shops, due to concern that the species was under threat. However, resutls from this report show that this meat is still being sold.

The fish tested was being sold under misleading names, such as flake, rock, huss and rock salmon, but it has now been revealed, through DNA barcoding techniques, that the meat comes from the globally threatened spiny dogfish shark species.

The study, which was published on the 31st January, has brought to light the issue of labelling specificity in the UK. Product labels are not required to be as specific in the UK as they are in other European countries. Therefore, shark meat can be sold under umbrella names like flake, huss and rock, which mislead the consumer, leaving them unaware of what they are actually purchasing. 

Catherine Hobbs, the first author of the study, argues that “it’s almost impossible for consumers to know what they are buying… we should adopt more precise labelling here in the UK.”

Researchers also found endangered shark fins for sale at a British wholesaler. The fins were taken from the globally endangered species, the scalloped hammerheads as well as the shortfin mako and the smalleye hammerhead. The wholesaler, depsite being unaware which species the fins had been sourced from, continued to sell them to unsuspecting customers.

Despite scalloped hammerheads being subject to strict import regulations, they had still managed to reach the wholesaler without any correct labelling. Dr Griffiths, a senior author on the study stated that "the discovery of endangered hammerhead sharks highlights how widespread the sale of declining species really is – even reaching Europe and the UK".

Hundreds of Shark fin drying in a location somewhere in Southeast Asia Image Credit: India's Endangered.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, between 2000 and 2011 'global trade data show the trade in shark meat expanding steadily over the last decade or so, and the latest FAO official figure...represents an increase of 42 percent  by volume'.

Sarah Fowler, trustee for the British organisation Shark Trust, revealed that “experts agree that sharks and their relatives face a far higher risk of extinction than most other vertebrates. We now believe that a quarter of all sharks, skates and rays are threatened".

This is a result of their lower reproductive rates. Sharks tend to produce fewer eggs than other fish and take a much longer time to reach sexual maturity. As a result they face a much higher risks of extinction and it is therefore vital that efforts are made to protect them. 

As consumers it is crucial that we enquire about the sourcing of the fish we consume, as well as making a conscious effort not to purchase fish where the origin is uncertain.

The real issue here is that endangered species are being unknowingly sold to consumers. This misleading and deceitful practice needs to be stopped with all meat, not just shark meat.

According to The Guardian, nearly 100 million sharks are killed every year. If we do not make more of an effort to protect them it is estimated that within a few decades many species could have reached extinction. 

Click here to read more about Endangered Animals and Sharks from the Environment section.

Lead Image: Andy Murch for Predators in Peril

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