Endangered shark species such as hammerhead and dogfish are being sold as food across the UK, new research has found.
Scientists at the University of Exeter made the shocking discovery after sampling shark products from fishmongers and chip shops, as well as fins from an Asian food wholesaler, based in the UK.
The paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports on January 31, found the majority of chip shop samples – which were sold under generic names such as huss, rock salmon and rock eel – were actually spiny dogfish.
The species is considered ‘endangered’ in Europe and ‘vulnerable’ worldwide.
The fins sampled at the food wholesaler included scalloped hammerheads, which are classed as globally ‘endangered’ and subject to strict international trade restrictions.
The shocking find was made using “DNA barcoding’, a method that uses a designated portion of a specific gene to identify an organism to species.
The study analysed 78 samples from chip shops and 39 from fishmongers mostly in southern England, as well as 10 fins from one wholesaler.
Researchers also studied 30 fins seized by the UK Border Force on their way from Mozambique to Asia, including bull sharks – a species classed as ‘near threatened’.
Following the discovery, researchers called for more specific food labelling so people know what species of fish they are eating.
Dr Andrew Griffiths of the University of Exeter said: ‘The discovery of endangered hammerhead sharks highlights how widespread the sale of declining species really is – even reaching Europe and the UK.
‘Separate investigations focusing on Asia have commonly identified scalloped hammerhead in fin processing.
‘Scalloped hammerhead can be imported under strict conditions, but the wholesaler had no idea what species the fin belonged to.’
The fins from the UK wholesaler, which supplies UK Asian restaurants and supermarkets, also included other threatened shark species such as shortfin mako and smalleye hammerheads.
Analysis of the samples gained from chip shops also identified other globally threatened shark species such as nursehounds, smooth-hounds and blue sharks.
Samples of the endangered hammerhead shark were found in UK chip shops (GETTY)
First author Catherine Hobbs, also of the University of Exeter, said of the findings: ‘People might think they’re getting a sustainably sourced product when they’re actually buying a threatened species.
‘There are also health issues. 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.
‘Knowledge of shark species consumption in the UK, especially those of prohibited species and those of high conservation concern, enhances our ability to address the decline in shark populations.
Simon Walmsley, Chief Marine Adviser at WWF told Yahoo News UK: ‘Endangered shark species shouldn’t be ending up on people’s plates as their weekend takeaway, particularly the spiny dogfish which is vulnerable and threatened with extinction.
‘This highlights the gaps that still exist around tracing where fish come from.
‘We are working with people across the industry to translate policy changes into effective action and ensure that from sea to table, consumers know what they are eating.’