Shark shocker: Endangered species sold in UK fish and chip shops

Endangered sharks are being sold as food in the U.K, according to experts, even turning up in some fish and chip shops.

Scientists from the University of Exeter made the discovery after analyzing shark products from seafood stores and chip shops. They also examined shark fins from an Asian food wholesaler in the U.K.

DNA analysis was used to examine 78 samples from chip shops and 39 from seafood stores, mostly in southern England. Scientists studied 10 fins from the wholesaler.

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“The majority of chip shop samples (usually sold under generic names like huss, rock salmon and rock eel) were spiny dogfish – a species ‘endangered’ in Europe and ‘vulnerable’ worldwide,” they explained in a statement.

Researchers examined a number of shark fins as part of the study.

Researchers examined a number of shark fins as part of the study. (Credit Rob Potts)

The study has been widely reported, although the "vulnerable" status of spiny dogfish populations has been questioned. "When it comes to the U.S. spiny dogfish stock, it's extremely healthy," Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association told Fox News.

On it website, NOAA describes Atlantic spiny dogfish as near target population levels. "According to the 2015 stock assessment, Atlantic spiny dogfish are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing," it says. "Scientists project that the number of mature females may decline somewhat in the coming years due to the low number of pups born during the 1990s when spiny dogfish were heavily fished. This potential decline is not expected to result in the stock becoming overfished."

Spiny dogfish grow up to 3.3 feet for males and 4 feet for females, according to NOAA. They can live up to 40 years.

Hammerhead sharks also featured in the University of Exeter's research. Fin samples included scalloped hammerheads, which are endangered globally and subject to international tread restrictions, according to the researchers.

“The discovery of endangered hammerhead sharks highlights how widespread the sale of declining species really is – even reaching Europe and the U.K.,” said Dr. Andrew Griffiths, a lecturer in biological science at the University of Exeter, in a statement. “Scalloped hammerhead can be imported under strict conditions, but the wholesaler had no idea what species the fin belonged to.”

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The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

As a result of the research, the study’s authors want more accurate food labeling in the U.K. so that consumers know what they are eating.

“It’s almost impossible for consumers to know what they are buying,” said Catherine Hobbs, the study’s lead author. “People might think they’re getting a sustainably sourced product when they’re actually buying a threatened species.”

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Consumers’ health issues are also important. “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,” said Hobbs.

Sharks continue to be a source of fear and fascination.

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Last year, for example, surprised scientists identified the seagrass-munching bonnethead as the first omnivorous shark species.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers