Can You Eat Shark Meat?

Can You Eat Shark Meat?

Yes, shark meat is legally allowed to be eaten in the United States. However, shark meat consumption remains more popular elsewhere in the world. Shark meat is nutritious and is a good source of protein, B-vitamins, phosphorus, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Since sharks are the apex predators of the ocean, they will consume many species of smaller fish. This can lead to the accumulation of heavy metals in their bodies. For this reason, shark meat should only be eaten sparingly. Another concern with consuming shark is that many species of shark are considered to be endangered. 

Where is eating shark meat most popular?

Eating shark meat is popular around the world. It is thought that over 100 million sharks are killed for food each year. Japan, Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand, India, Iceland, and Scandinavia are just a few of the countries where the population regularly consumes shark. In the U.S., eating shark meat is not as common because of the awareness that the shark is endangered. It is also due to the information that shark meat may contain high levels of heavy metals, especially mercury. 

Shark finning is still popular in parts of Asia, mostly in China, where it is seen as a sign of status. Shark fin can be served many ways, but the most common method is to place the fin in soup. Shark fin soup is often served at wedding banquets. 

Shark finning involves catching a shark and removing only the fin. When the animal is released, it cannot swim and will sink to the bottom of the ocean and die. This inhumane practice has sparked protests to outlaw it, and consumption of shark fin soup is on the decline. Interestingly, shark fin does not add any flavor to the soup; it only adds texture. 

What is the nutritional value of eating shark?

When based on pounds per body weight, the shark provides a very high yield of meat, making it an attractive source of protein. The most common types of shark to be consumed for their meat are mako, dogfish, catsharks, sand sharks, and smoothhounds. Mako sharks are especially valuable; the meat is considered a delicacy and is often compared to salmon.

Shark meat is a good source of phosphorus and selenium, and it is high in niacin, vitamins B-6, and B-12. However, shark meat is considered to contain a high percentage of cholesterol.

The liver of the mako shark is also used to make shark liver oil. This oil contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and squalene, and it can be used in alternative medicine. Shark liver oil has reported benefits of increasing libido and sexual desire and also of making the skin appear more beautiful. Shark liver should never be eaten directly as it can contain too much mercury. 

Shark bones and cartilage have also been consumed, and the skin of the shark is used to make leather. 

Are there any problems with eating shark meat?

Yes. Sharks sit at the top of the food chain and eat smaller fish. This leads to accumulation of heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic. The mercury present in sharks is often found in the form of methylmercury. 

Methylmercury is considered to be extremely dangerous and attacks the nervous system. Toxic levels of mercury can lead to vision and hearing loss, lack of muscle coordination, and may affect memory. In severe cases, death can occur. 

Mercury is so prevalent in shark meat that one-third of sampled sharks contained greater than the recommended level. In 2004, the EPA issued a warning to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish due to the high levels of mercury. 

How is shark meat prepared?

Shark meat must be prepared and eaten immediately because it is not stable, even under refrigeration. Old shark meat releases uric acid and ammonia, giving it a very unpleasant smell. Brining in salt or marinating the meat are the most popular options to combat spoilage. After preparation, shark meat can be cut into steaks and served like any other large fish. Dehydrating shark meat is also very popular, especially in Scandinavia where the cod supply is dwindling. 

Iceland has a unique way of preparing shark, and it is seen as a local delicacy. Referred to as hakarl, the meat of the Greenland shark is buried and allowed to ferment. Then it is hung out to dry for up to 6 months. The result is an acquired taste that has a strong fishy flavor mixed with the sharp smell of cleaning products. Hakarl is often served at mid-winter festivals and served with a shot of local alcohol. A few famous chefs have even tried it. Anthony Bourdain described it as “ the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing ”, and Gordon Ramsay was unable to finish it. 


Although shark meat may be consumed, and is legal to do so in the United States, it is not very popular. This is due to the shark’s endangered nature, and the concerns over high levels of mercury and other potential cancer-causing agents like lead, arsenic, and cadmium. 

Shark fin soup is very popular in China where it is known as one of the “4 treasures” of seafood. However, due to ethical concerns, the hunting of sharks only for their fins is being curtailed. 

All parts of the shark can be eaten, however, the meat has to be processed immediately to avoid spoilage. Brining and marinating followed by filleting remains the most popular method of serving shark. 

Shark liver oil is a popular folk remedy that can be consumed. It has been touted from curing cancer to increasing libido. Shark liver oil may also be applied topically to the skin to improve appearance. The actual liver of the shark cannot be eaten due to toxic levels of mercury. 

The most common species of shark to be consumed is the mako shark, however, the majority of shark species are considered endangered. 

If intending to consume shark meat, it is recommended to enjoy it only occasionally. 

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