Chip Shops Have Been Selling Endangered Sharks As Fish

By Holly Brockwell on at

Grim news about one of our few national dishes: the generic fish you got at your local chippy might well have been an endangered shark.

Researchers from the University of Exeter DNA tested fish sold under names including flake, huss, rock and rock salmon, and found that it was actually spiny dogfish, which is a type of shark officially considered endangered.

According to the Guardian, EU fishermen weren't allowed to catch spiny dogfish at all until 2011, when a new rule said it was OK if you caught it by accident when fishing for other things. That just seems like an officially-sanctioned excuse to us.

Fancy a spiny dogfish for supper? Image: OCVA via Flickr CC

Further tests revealed a British fish wholesaler was unaware it was selling fins from shortfin mako sharks and two types of hammerheads, one of which is globally endangered.

It's not illegal to sell sharks under generic fish names like 'rock', but the researchers behind the study would like to see an end to this practice. It's pretty surprising to find out many of us have been eating sharks with our dinner, and the fact that some of them are endangered is even worse.

Considering how stringent food labelling is in some areas, it's surprising that fishmongers and chippies can basically say "unspecified swimming thing" and get away with it.

The study's abstract explains:

"The results underline issues surrounding the use of ‘umbrella’ sales terms where many species are labelled with the same designation. This denies consumer choice as purchasers cannot easily avoid declining species or those associated with high levels of toxicants.

[...]Despite a small sample size, analysis of UK wholesaler fins identified threatened sharks, including the endangered and CITES listed Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini). This highlights the global nature of the damaging trade in endangered shark species, in which Europe and the UK have a continuing role."

Catherine Hobbs, lead author of the study, adds:

"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.

There are also health issues. Knowing what species you are buying could be important in terms of allergies, toxins, mercury content and the growing concern over microplastics in the marine food chain."

We'll be sticking to chips and mushy peas this Friday night.

Main image by Gilly on Unsplash