Mislabeled Shark Meat 'Rampant' in Shops

Shark meat sold in Australian markets is frequently mislabeled and includes meat from threatened species.

Shark meat on sale at Australian fish market.
Shark meat on sale at Australian fish market.
Teagan J. Parker Kielniacz

SYDNEY — Researchers at Macquarie University have found a significant portion of shark meat sold in Australian fish markets and takeaway shops is mislabeled, including several samples from threatened species.

The findings, published in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research this month, highlight the ineffectiveness of seafood labelling and the grave implications for both consumer choice and shark conservation.

Researchers collected 91 samples of shark meat from 28 retailers across six Australian states and territories and used DNA barcoding to identify the species of each sample and compared it to the label applied by the retailer.

They found 70% of the samples were mislabeled, either because the species did not match the label or the label did not comply with the Australian Fish Names Standard (AFNS).

Mislabeling was particularly high for samples labelled as "flake," which the AFNS restricts to fish from just two sustainably caught shark species: the gummy shark and New Zealand rig shark.

They found 88% of samples labelled "flake" were not from either of these species and nine samples sold as "flake" came from species listed as threatened in Australia.

Mislabeling was markedly higher in takeaway shops compared to fish markets and wholesalers.

With many shark populations facing unprecedented declines worldwide, the research underscores the urgent need for improved labeling standards and enforcement, said co-author and research supervisor Nicolette Armansin.

“Ambiguous trade labels like ‘flake’ are a real hindrance to sustainable consumption,” Armansin said.

Adam Stow heads the conservation genetics laboratory at Macquarie University, and said rapid DNA testing to determine what species have been caught or traded could enable large-scale monitoring of seafood supply chains.

Teagan Parker Kielniacz said the study shows the importance of giving consumers access to accurate information to build a more ethical and sustainable shark meat industry.

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