A new study has discovered that meat from sharks on the verge of extinction is increasingly making its way to plates in restaurants all across the United Kingdom.
Reports from British scientists say that shark products ordered at restaurants may not be from a sustainable population, and reveal that consumers could have no idea. Looking at DNA tests, the scientists concluded that there are at least two species on the endangered list that are readily consumed.
Since shark meat - regularly seen in dishes such as shark fin soup - is impossible to sort by species once it's been processed, so researchers from the University of Exeter took DNA from 100 samples located in chip shops and supermarkets all across the south of England, and also looked at shark meat imported into the UK.
The authors have concluded that the UK is playing a leading role in what they describe as a "damaging trade in endangered shark species" across the world. One of the at-risk species is the scalloped hammerhead, and it's subject to international restrictions.
"The discovery of scalloped hammerheads in shark fins that were destined to be sold in the UK highlights how widespread the sale of these endangered species really is," Dr Andrew Griffiths, one of the authors on the study, explained.
The results of the study were featured in the journal Scientific Reports, where it was revealed that one of the most popular types of shark found in kitchens was the Squalus acanthias, or spiny dogfish. Rated as vulnerable to extinction on a global scale, it made up 90 percent of the samples found in chip shops, and is regularly found in British chip shops under the names "rock salmon", "huss" or "rock eel".
It's one of 10 species of shark fin imported into the UK for trade and consumption, but Catherine Hobbs, who is also from the University of Exeter, says that generic names are often permitted, and as a result, it's very difficult to understand whether the shark you're eating is sustainably sourced.
"It's almost impossible for consumers to know what they are buying. People might think they're getting a sustainably sourced product when they're actually buying a threatened species."
Shark meat has been eaten as part of a human diet for centuries, but recently, the population numbers for sharks has been declining. Between the year 2000 and 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organisation at the United Nations revealed that global imports of sharks, rays and other cartilaginous fishes rose by about 42 percent, with Dr Griffiths explaining that sharks in particular are vulnerable to overfishing practices.
"Sharks are inherently more vulnerable to overfishing because they don't produce many eggs and they take a long time to reach maturity - to be able to produce offspring," she explained, adding to the debate over whether or not sharks should be regarded as sustainable and harvestable for food.