Andrew Thirlwell/Getty Images

To celebrate Shark Week, here are the answers to your most pressing shark-as-ingredient questions.

July 27, 2017

It’s Shark Week and while you’re probably still disappointed by Michael Phelps’ recent "race" with a Great White, there are still plenty more shark-themed fun and facts to enjoy. One topic that often comes up during the Discovery Channel’s yearly celebration of the greatest marine apex predator, though, is the idea of shark as food. Who eats shark? Do Americans eat shark? Why is shark finning a problem? These are all great questions and we’re here to get you some answers. Here’s everything you need to know about eating shark in the U.S.

Is it legal to eat shark in the U.S.?

Yes, shark meat is legal for consumption in the United States. In fact, sharks actually produce a very high yield of meat based on their body weight. That said, shark meat is not particularly popular in America because many species found off American shores are endangered and shark meat has also been known to contain high levels of mercury in some cases. The biggest issue with fishing for sharks, however, is the process of finning.

What is finning?

While consuming shark fins isn’t in itself an issue, the act of finning continues to be detrimental to sharks around the world. Finning involves catching sharks, removing their fins and then cruelly releasing the sharks back into the water alive. This is extremely problematic as finless sharks are left completely helpless and either sink to the ocean floor and suffocate or are eaten by other fish. From a food standpoint this practice also wastes 95 percent of the animal. However, due to the high price of fins, many fishermen believe that it is more economical to conserve space on their boats for just fins, rather than bringing the entire shark back to shore.

In 2011, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, a mandate that ensures that the traditional practice of finning does not take place in the U.S. However, it's up to state legislation to ban the act of finning and sales of shark fins altogether. There are currently 11 U.S. states that have passed laws that ban the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins: Hawaii, Oregon, California, Washington, Texas, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island and Delaware.

Who eats shark fins?

Dating back to the mid-1300s, shark fin soup has been a delicacy in China and it is often presented at weddings and banquets as a sign of social status. While the dish reached its peak in popularity during the early 2000s, a number of Chinese athletes, actors and business people have taken stands against the controversial soup in recent years. Shark fins are traditionally served cold, dried, cooked, wet, frozen, and canned. and they are used primarily for texture, rather than tast. 

How is shark prepared?

Unprocessed shark meat is known to spoil quickly and possesses a strong ammonia odor due to its high urea content. However, brining the meat or marinating it for an extended period of time can remove the urea and odor. Additionally, as cod populations have decreased, dried shark has become increasingly popular in many countries where salt cod has been popular. For the most part, shark meat is cut into steaks and fillets and is prepared similarly to any other large marine fish.

Where is shark eaten outside the U.S.?

While shark meat is not popular in the United States, much of the rest of the world consumes it as a good source of protein. It's eaten in Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Korea, Australia (where it’s served fried with chips and known as ”flake”), Iceland, the U.K., Germany, France, Scandinavia and a number of countries in East Africa. While some shark preparations are less enticing than others—yes, we’re looking at you Iceland, with your buried, fermented and dried hákari—others, like Trinidadian Bake and Shark, would fit in perfectly at a beachside cookout and are quite tasty.