Ask Corporations to stop selling threatened species and label shark meat
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IMPORTANT SHARK MEAT UPDATE:
You’ve probably already heard that many supermarkets and markets sell mislabeled seafood.
You wouldn’t want to eat an endangered species like panda or rhino, would you? So why eat shark meat?
One in four shark species are threatened with extinction, yet shark meat is sold at grocery stores worldwide. Even worse – the shark meat is mislabeled so that consumers aren’t even aware of eating endangered sharks. Our own research also found that mako shark meat, for example, sold in supermarkets in Mexico contains three times the legal limit in mercury, a highly toxic chemical that poses substantial risks to human health.
After six years researching and collecting data from many samples and species of shark meat bought at select grocery stores throughout Costa Rica, Panamá, Spain, USA, Mexico, and more, we know now that the shark-meat industry is not only causing the extinction of endangered shark populations, but also that shark-meat consumption is becoming a public-health hazard.
In our last two years researching in Baja and Baja California Sur, Mexico we now have substantial data detailing the alarming amounts of the toxic substance mercury found in fish sold at grocery stores around the world.
There is no question that mercury is toxic. It is the reason consumption limits were originally set in place. At high levels of consumption, mercury is known to cause neurological and birth defects among other ailments. So why are stores selling shark meat with higher levels of mercury than allowed by law?
Mercury limits deemed safe for consumption are set by the government in Mexico. This limit is set at 0.5 – 1.0 mg/kg per fish. However, all the species tested had an average of 1.45 mg/kg per fish; well above the legal limit, meaning consumption puts humans at risk. The highest amount of mercury was detected in the mako shark, with 3.0 mg/kg, rendering it very toxic. This shark is also listed as endangered and at risk of extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Redlist.
To tackle this large problem, one immediate issue to address is mislabelling of shark meat. Stores must correctly label their seafood and fish products to allow customers to make informed decisions.
Shark and ray meat remains available for purchase at many store locations such as:
Walmart (Canada, Mexico, Central America)
Mega Super (Costa Rica)
La Comer (Mexico)
Harris Teeter (Baltimore, Maryland)
Nations Fresh Foods (Canada)
Publix (USA) labeling it most times
Mercadona (Spain) labeling it most times
Consum (Spain) labeling it most times
Shark meat is inadequately labeled, preventing customers from making responsible and healthy purchasing choices.
Shark and ray meat is largely an unwise seafood source to begin with, as fishing rates are currently higher than is sustainable. This is one of the main reasons we are requesting better labeling on shark and ray meat sold in these stores. We are also asking they reconsider the sale of meat from species listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist.
Both sharks and rays are highly vulnerable to fishing pressure due to their life-history traits. Chondrichthyan species (cartilaginous fish such as sharks, rays, and their relatives) are slow-growing with many species taking over a decade to reach sexual maturity. They also produce few young after long periods of gestation. Evolutionarily this served sharks and rays well as these traits allow them to give birth to large young that are able to fend for themselves, historically lending them few natural enemies.
However, these traits have also made them significantly more vulnerable to fishing pressures. In recent years, shark stocks have declined by 90 percent. Due to fishing pressures fewer sharks are living to maturity, and because of the inability of fishing fleets to find adult sharks, most shark meat actually comes from juvenile sharks.
Since these sharks are not physically capable of reproducing prior to capture, shark populations continue to decline at a rapid rate. According to the IUCN Shark Specialty Group (SSG) less than 15 percent of chondrichthyan species have safe stocks. The IUCN SSG has listed 30 percent of species as endangered, vulnerable to extinction, or near threatened and another 46 percent of species lack necessary data to determine their status. Chondrichthyan species are therefore the most threatened group of vertebrates on the planet. Shark and ray populations cannot sustain this continued exploitation.
Many species of sharks and rays found in supermarkets are highly threatened. If these population trends continue, scientists predict that most chondrichthyan fish species will be extinct within the next few decades. Several of the species listed at https://www.iucnredlist.org/ may currently be sold in your stores.
However, due to insufficient labeling there is no definite way to know this.
Nakawe Project team members also visited the Walmart store in Guadalupe, Costa Rica back in 2017. Team members noted that shark was labeled with indiscriminate names such as “Cazon” and “Bolillo.” When an employee at that store was asked what type of shark it was they responded, “normal shark… from Costa Rican water.” There is no “normal” type of shark, in fact there are more than 500 species in our oceans today. The species of sharks that are most often fished in Costa Rican waters today are silky shark (near threatened), thresher (vulnerable), and hammerhead (endangered)...
However, because the shark and ray meat sold in your stores is not labeled with species and the sales people do not know what it is, consumers have no way of knowing if they are purchasing an endangered species or not. As large retail corporations with many stores, all of the businesses addressed within this letter hold a lot of power in environmental issues such as this.
Your choice whether or not to sell threatened shark and ray species may make the difference in their impending extinction. For these reasons, we ask that you discontinue the sale of shark and ray species listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist. We also ask for transparency in your stores by labeling the species of all shark and ray meat sold.
Populations of sharks and rays are quickly declining due to unsustainable fishing pressures. If we can reduce the demand for threatened species it may be possible to give the populations of these species time to recover.
Please begin labeling all meat sold in your stores to give consumers the opportunity to make environmentally conscious choices. Please also discontinue the sale of threatened shark and ray species in your stores.
Michelle Edwards, Regina Domingo, and the Nakawe Project team
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