Can You Eat Shark: What Every Angler Should Know about Shark Meat
You hooked a shark, you’re hungry and now you’re wondering… can you eat shark? The answer is yes. In fact, shark has been a long-standing food source with its origins dating all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China. Today, it’s still a common food in places across the globe. You can find shark in soups, grilled, barbecued, in tacos, as steaks, on kebabs and even as jerky. But, before shark becomes edible (and enjoyable), there are a few essential things every angler should know.
To be clear, I'm no advocate for the disgusting and wasteful practice of shark finning nor am I a fan of long line commercial fishing vessels taking massive amounts of sharks as bycatch. I am forever an advocate of hook and line angling and selective take. I believe that this alone plus an awareness of how shark meat is wasted unnecessarily is an important part of conservation of apex predators.
I am hoping that you see that sharks can be a catch themselves which in turn helps educate fish eaters that this particular order of fish should not so maligned. Okay, off my soapbox.
Let's explore why the misconception that sharks are inedible exists...
Sharks Exhaust Quickly
When fishing for shark to eat, preparation begins the moment you hook the shark and long before it’s in your boat or on the beach. This is because a shark fighting your line can exhaust easily which can cause it to weaken and begin to deteriorate.
The more exhausted a shark gets, the more lactic acid and carbon dioxide there is in the blood and muscles — all of which can affect the taste of the meat.
As a rule of thumb, the less trauma a shark or any fish goes through before and during slaughter, the higher quality the meat. You’ll want to reel in the shark as fast as possible to ensure it isn’t in an exhausted and deteriorated state by the time it hits your boat or the beach.
Catching shark can be tricky, but in general, sharks prefer oily baits. Getting the right chum slick can be critical as well as the right shark rig. On the Water has an excellent beginner's guide here.
Sharks Urinate through Their Skin
As a shark deteriorates the urea in their blood immediately begins to break down into ammonia which then gets absorbed in the flesh and expelled through the skin of the animal. In other words, sharks urinate through their skin.
This is why shark meat that hasn’t been prepped quickly and effectively can smell and taste like ammonia — not an appetizing flavor.
To avoid ammonia taste in the meat, once you land a shark, it’s imperative you bleed it, gut it and clean it as soon as possible. So it's clear -- get the fish onboard and gut it immediately. Some states require whole fish to be counted. So long as you gut it immediately, there shouldn't be any problem with strong urea presence.
Preparation is Key to Edible Shark Meat
To do this, start by cutting the spine near the front of the gills to kill the shark and begin bleeding out the gills. Then cut the shark's tail to sever the caudal artery or cut the tail completely off. Keep in mind that a good quality filet knife is a must, due to the shark's leathery skin.
As the shark’s heart slows it will pump the remaining blood from the animal. Once bled, gut the shark and immediately put it on ice. Once that’s complete, you’re ready to transfer your catch to your kitchen or wherever you plan on breaking it down.
Before filleting your fish consider whether or not you plan on keeping the shark’s skin on your cuts. Some anglers suggest removing the skin with a pair of needle-nose pliers at the start of breaking down the animal.
Other anglers suggest filleting the shark with skin on, cutting a few millimeters past the skin to remove the skin and the outermost layers of the flesh which are more red and contain more blood. A third option is to keep the shark’s skin on the fillets and remove after the meat has been cooked.
Once your shark has been filleted, place your pieces in a pan or tub with pure lemon juice or buttermilk to help draw out the flavor of ammonia from the flesh of the shark. When using lemon juice, don’t keep your fillet in the solution for too long or the acid in the lemon juice will start cooking the meat.
How long you soak the shark depends on the size of the filets, with the typical range being from 5 to 10 minutes for lemon juice and up to 24 hours for buttermilk. After your fillets soak, they’re ready to be cooked or placed in a bag and put in the freezer.
Not all sharks make for good eating, but there are a few that top the tasty list according to anglers, including: Mako, Thresher, Sevengill, Soupfin, Leopard, Dogfish, Shovelnose, and Blacktip.
Mako tops the list of most popular edible sharks with a flavor comparable to swordfish.
Some anglers believe sharks in their middle years of life taste the best with older shark’s meat being tough and tight, and younger sharks having little meat to offer, although tender.
It’s important to note the FDA lists sharks as a species containing high levels of mercury. Although mercury in seafood isn't a concern for most adults, some precautions can apply for pregnant woman.
Before heading out to fish for sharks, it’s a good idea to research the different species you’re likely to catch. Some sharks species are abundant and edible, but many species aren’t and should be released.
Alternatively, hiring an experienced guide for your local area will help you fast track your knowledge and experience. Although some guides specifically shy away from landing any shark, research and ask questions about a specific guide's philosophy and methods.
There's no shortage of great shark recipes online, but here's one I've found to be particularly on point. It calls for shark steaks with mango and avocado salsa. In general, for stronger tasting fish, this is the type of recipe that is going to help draw out any type of overly strong taste. The health benefits of mango alone in this justify the recipe for really any fish. It just goes well with shark meat in particular.
Again, you may consider soaking your catch in milk overnight in order to release any evidence of odor.
Whether grilled or fried, shark meat has a firm texture and is hearty without flaking into a mess. Once well prepared, it stands up to most prep no problem, so you may want to experiment with several cuts.
Don't be afraid! Even if you've heard horror stories or had rough tasting shark meat in the past, it's worth a try again if you follow the prep guidelines in this article. Again, I hate the amount of bycatch sharks suffer in commercial nets and long lines, and advocate responsible take of any fish. I applaud the effort and dedication of anglers and hope you take an active stance in fisheries conservation.
Fishing for and catching sharks can be a thrilling experience for any angler, and getting to take your catch home for dinner could make the experience even sweeter. Although shark isn’t as traditional of a meal as fish, with the right handling, preparations, and cooking, shark can become a delicious addition to your favorite seafood recipes. So the next time someone asks you "can you eat shark", you can confidently tell them yes.
What about saltwater catfish?
Some people think you can't eat saltwater catfish. Those are the people I call, "wrong." Read the story.