Are Sharks Good To Eat? Is It Morally Ok To Keep Them?

Sharks are some of the ocean’s top apex predators, known for their fearsome appetites and monstrous size.

Of course, that large size relative to other fish also means these cartilaginous fish pack a whole lot of meat onto their flexible bones!

This begs the question: Are sharks good to eat?

The answer is murky and delves into such diverse topics as a culinary technique, nutrition, law, ethics, food chain dynamics, and the environment.

So sharpen those teeth, because we’re about to chomp down on some hard-hitting facts about dining on shark meat!

Table of Contents

The Basics: Is Shark Meat Edible?

Removing all of the other complicated factors about killing sharks, is the meat itself okay to eat? The answer is yes, but it requires some pretty involved prep work to make it something you’d even want to eat.

Shark meat, much like many other fish, is lean and high in protein, amino acids and other key minerals and nutrients. It can be cooked in much the same way as a swordfish steak, and many people say the texture is similarly firm.

So what’s not to love there? Well, many species of sharks are known for retaining a high concentration of a chemical called urea in their flesh.

This chemical helps sharks to regulate their internal moisture in salty seawater, but it is known for its pungent ammonia-like odor and foul flavor.

In case the name didn’t already tip you off, urea is one of the key chemicals in our urine. Imagine that smell concentrated many times over and thoroughly soaked through your shark steak.

Still feeling hungry?

Thankfully, urea is fat soluble, which leads us to an easy solution: Let your shark meat soak in full-fat milk for 20-30 minutes before preparation, then give it a good rinse before cooking. The milk, now full of dissolved urea, can be thrown away, leaving you with a much tastier product.

What Does Shark Meat Taste Like?

The taste of shark meat largely depends on the preparation and cooking methods, but it’s a much more firm meat, than traditional ‘flaky’ fish like grouper or snapper.

The taste of shark meat can be described as salty and with a mild fishy taste. It’s dense meat and is often referred to as ‘shark steaks’ due to its firm texture.

Many people compare the taste of sharks to tuna or swordfish. If you are used to mild, white flakey fish…be prepared that shark is much different. Some people love it, others hate it.

Is Shark Meat Poisonous?

Shark meat in itself is not poisonous, but because they are apex predators, shark meat often contains above-average levels of Mercury, which can be hazardous if consumed often.

Mercury is a highly toxic metallic element that enters the oceans primarily as waste from coal plants.

It can enter the food chain in the fat-soluble form of methylmercury, where it is stored in an animal’s fatty tissues. Smaller animals store little mercury, but levels rise as you climb the food chain.

For example, A shrimp may have a small, low-risk amount of mercury inside it. But larger fish eat shrimp, and sharks eat larger fish. All of that mercury can accumulate into the top predator (in this example, sharks!).

Raw shark meat steaks

Is Shark Meat Toxic?

The food chain essentially acts as a huge biological funnel, taking all of the mercury in the system and concentrating it in the flesh of the apex predators. This process is called bioaccumulation and affects the largest animals in an ecosystem most of all.

The end result is that shark meat, especially taken from larger individuals, can contain dangerously high levels of mercury.

Other fish such as tuna and swordfish are also affected, but sharks routinely have even higher amounts than these similarly sized species.

So while shark meat is not poisonous or toxic, many species of shark are known to contain high levels of mercury and other contaminants, which may be cause for concern.

That is why the Food and Drug Administration lists eating shark species as a “Choices To Avoid”.

Does that mean that eating the occasional shark is out of the question? No, of course not. Many people in the United States and all over the world eat and consume sharks.

What Types Of Sharks Are Good To Eat?

While big sharks may be off of the menu due to safety concerns, if you and your angler friends are really in the mood for some grilled shark, consider the small yet feisty Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias).

This small shark only grows to a maximum size of about four feet long and is abundant along both the East and West Coasts of the US.

Catching them is as simple as throwing a chunk of bait off of a pier, especially during summer months when they’re most active! 

Dogfish are easier to catch for many anglers as they do not require heavy-duty gear on account of their smaller size. Don’t underestimate them, however; they will still put up a decent fight on medium-action pier gear!

See Also: Using Mullet For Shark Bait? Follow These Tips!

Because these sharks do not grow nearly as large as some other species, they do not accumulate as much mercury in their systems.

While levels are still high enough that you should not consume it regularly, dogfish is much safer than other sharks as a once-in-a-while treat.

Dogfish Shark

What’s more, these sharks are not considered to be overfished by NOAA, and their populations are stable. Eating dogfish provides an alternative to larger sharks that is better for both you and for the environment!

Cooking Shark Meat

If you do plan on keeping shark for a tasty meal, there are a few things you can do to ensure that taste is delicious:

First, most anglers recommend bleeding your shark, and soaking the carcass in cold ice water until you can get it home. This will ensure the fish stays fresh and cool to prevent bacteria growth.

Next, Cut the shark into steaks, or fillet off the meat (this may vary depending on personal preference or the type of shark).

With your shark fillets or steaks, I recommend soaking them in buttermilk or whole milk for 20-30 minutes prior to cooking. This will help reduce the urea content in the meat and lead to a more pleasant flavor.

Next, just rinse, and cook! The most popular ways to cook shark is grilled, fried, or sauteed.

And lastly, fresh shark is almost always going to be better tasting than frozen shark. Although it can be frozen, fresh shark fillets will accentuate the firm texture.

Is It Ethical To Eat Shark Meat?

Eating shark meat is a somewhat controversial topic, but it doesn’t have to be. In areas where sharks are properly regulated, consuming the occasional shark for food is perfectly acceptable.

For example, here in my home state of Florida, it is legal to keep up to 1 shark per person, per day from the group 1 shark list (with no minimum size limit):

  • Atlantic Sharpnose
  • Blacknose
  • Blacktip
  • Bonnethead
  • Finetooth
  • Smooth dogfish 
  • Florida smoothhound
  • Gulf smoothhound

And you’re allowed to keep 1 shark per person, per day from the group 2 shark list, as long as they meet the 54-inch (fork length) minimum size limit. These include:

  • Bull
  • Nurse
  • Spinner
  • Blue
  • Oceanic whitetip
  • Porbeagle
  • Thresher (common)

But many species of sharks are completely protected, and harvest is prohibited.

Shark harvest regulations will vary depending on where you are located, so as always check the rules in your area before you decide to keep a shark (or any fish).

Shark Finning: Illegal, Immoral, and Destructive

While shark meat is a pain to prepare properly and has little commercial value, shark fins are considered a delicacy in some Asian countries such as China, where it is often made into a soup.

This imbalance in value has spawned the extremely detrimental practice of shark finning.

When shark finning, sharks are caught, but not kept. Their fins are cut off and the still-living animal is thrown back into the water.

Since sharks need to swim constantly in order to intake oxygen, the immobile animal will sink and suffocate within minutes of release.

A large pile of Illegal Shark Fins

Since shark fins take up much less onboard freezer space than the whole fish, finning allows sharking boats to churn through many times more sharks than if they were keeping all of the meat. 

Finning kills between 70 and 100 million sharks each year, and because sharks reproduce relatively slowly, these numbers simply are not sustainable. Over half of global shark populations are under threat of extinction from this exploitative industry.

Thankfully, some countries are taking a stand. In the US, eating shark meat is perfectly legal assuming all other fishing regulations are followed, but the practice of finning is completely banned.

Many other countries have adopted this ban as well, although illegal fishing operations continue.


While shark meat can be edible, it is not recommended to eat it often, especially if the meat comes from a larger animal.

The human health factors are first and foremost, and shark fishing’s link to dubious practices like finning just make the decision even clearer.

However, harvesting the whole fish as a recreational angler should not be frowned upon in the same way, and eating a small shark such as a dogfish every once in a while isn’t going to destroy the planet.

As long as you don’t eat the fish every week, it’s relatively safe as well.

So grab your gear and your cooler and feel free to try to get onto the dogfish bite this summer.

Don’t forget a steel leader- you’ll need it for those teeth! And if you catch a nice one, cooking it once for you and your friends could be the highlight of the season. Thanks for reading.

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