What Is in Your Shark Fin Soup? Probably an Endangered Shark Species and a Bit of Mercury

Published on
22 March 2022

What Is in Your Shark Fin Soup? Probably an Endangered Shark Species and a Bit of Mercury

Christina Pei Pei Choy, Benjamin J. Wainwright


Shark fin soup, consumed by Asian communities throughout the world, is one of the principal drivers of the demand of shark fins. This near USD 1 billion global industry has contributed to a shark population declines of up to 70%. In an effort to arrest these declines, the trade in several species of sharks is regulated under the auspices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Despite this legal framework, the dried fins of trade-regulated sharks are frequently sold in markets and consumed in shark fin soup. Shark fins found in soups break down into a fibrous mass of ceratotrichia, meaning that identifying the species of sharks in the soup becomes impossible by visual methods. In this paper, we use DNA barcoding to identify the species of sharks found in bowls of shark fin soup collected in Singapore. The most common species identified in our samples was the blue shark (Prionace glauca), a species listed as Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List with a decreasing population, on which scientific data suggests catch limits should be imposed. We identified four other shark species that are listed on CITES Appendix II, and in total ten species that are assessed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Globally, the blue shark has been shown to contain levels of mercury that frequently exceed safe dose limits. Given the prevalence of this species in the examined soups and the global nature of the fin trade, it is extremely likely that consumers of shark fin soup will be exposed to unsafe levels of this neurotoxin.

Animals. 2022; 12(7):802. DOI: 10.3390/ani12070802


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