21. January 2019 Nils Kluger

Toxins in fish specialties – Sharkproject and Stop Finning show that the consumption of long-living predatory fish such as dogfish pose a threat to our health.

Schillerlocke im Verkauf auf dem Hamburger Fischmarkt 

The damaging effects of pollutants like methylmercury, which accumulates in high concentrations in predatory fish like shark, swordfish and tuna are still considerably unknown among consumers. This is why health organisations like the WHO and the Federal Ministries for Environment, Nature Conservation, Construction and Nuclear Safety warn about the consumption of such fish species as their meat can cause irreparable brain and nerve damage, as well as severe kidney damage, deformities in unborn children, infertility and possibly cancer. We as Sharkproject actively reach out to consumers to educate them about the health risks related to the consumption of predatory fish and to engage them in the protection of endangered fish species. 

Recent study investigating violation of reference levels in dogfish

A study run by Sharkproject estimated the amount of dogfish imported into Germany in 2013 at over 528 tons. This popular fish specialty is smoked and sold in long, golden brown strips. It is freely available at fish counters and markets without, however, any regard or warning about it being hazardous to one’s health. The meat of large predators like the dogfish are highly contaminated with methylmercury. This is, in part, due to the fact that predators like shark, swordfish and tuna are at the top of the food chain. The oceans are suffering from an ever-increasing contamination of chemical substances, microplastic, nitrates and phosphates which accumulate over the relatively long lifespan of large predators severely contaminating their meat. 

We have for years, been informing consumers and retailers about the risk that the consumption of shark, and especially dogfish, poses to both their health and the ecology. In order to provide consumers with more consequent protection and to develop a greater awareness about sustainable fish consumption, Sharkproject joined up with the organisation ‘Stop Finning Deutschland e.V.’ in 2017. Together with the Bremen medical laboratory they completed a study1 showing that in dogfish products the reference and norm levels for methylmercury are exceeded by about 200 percent. Additional studies indicate that in certain cases it was also not possible to stay below the legal limits set for methylmercury ingestion. These findings reveal that the consumption of as little as 150g of smoked dogfish already carries the possibility of considerable damage to health. 

New brochure by Sharkproject and Stop FInning to educate consumers about dogfish

The results underpin grievous gaps in the laws and consumer protection with regards to the contamination of fish products. Even fish labels like the MSC do not provide any information whatsoever with regards to the quality of the fish or its effects on our health. They only provide information regarding the population levels, the effects of fishing on the marine ecosystem and the fishery management, and even here there are serious irregularities. Retailers advertise MSC certified specialties like dogfish, tuna or swordfish, even though the populations of these large predators are highly endangered.  

Against the background of such numerous health and ecological implications, Sharkproject and Stop Finning are, together, demanding legislative changes aimed at restricting or prohibiting the sale of shark products in Germany and the EU. We are working simultaneously on an open discourse with retailers and fish dealers so that shark products will be excluded from their product range while offering consumers more sustainable alternatives. At the same time consumers themselves can also use their influence by controlling their fish consumption and avoiding certain fish specialties like smoked dogfish. Those who consciously avoid the consumption of long-living predatory fish while choosing sustainable alternatives, are not only doing something good for their own health, but are also supporting the protection of sharks and the biological preservation of the Oceans.