Beware of shark meat, FDA warns
April 26, 1996
From Correspondent Al Hinman
SARASOTA, Florida (CNN) -- Sharks... just the word strikes
fear into most people. But now there's a new threat from this fierce
fish. It's not sharks biting people that now has scientists concerned,
it's the other way around.
Eating shark meat may expose you to potentially dangerous, high levels
of the metal mercury. While a certain amount of mercury in the
environment is natural, a growing worldwide pollution, especially of
our oceans, appears to be increasing the risk of high mercury levels in
some of the fish we eat.
Too much mercury in one's diet from any source can cause loss of
coordination, blindness or even death.
Shark meat, however, is not the first seafood to carry a warning for
increased levels of mercury.
In fact large fish like sharks, tuna and
swordfish feed on smaller fish and can accumulate high levels of
environmental pollutants like mercury. The risk increases as off-shore
pollution increases and as more people eat more fish including shark.
The director of Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research in
Sarasota, Robert Hueter, spent five years studying samples from a
variety of shark species caught off the coasts of Florida, including the
two most-popular commercially-caught species.
"What we found for our 124 sharks that we sampled was that about
one-third of them came in with mercury levels that were over the Food
and Drug Administration's action level of one part per million," said
The FDA continues to monitor the mercury threat and could revise its
Nevertheless, Hueter notes his study shows that people should limit the
amount of shark meat they eat to no more than once or twice a month.
"As long as people's consumption rate is running at about that level,
there shouldn't be too much concern. But certainly pregnant women and
children should avoid eating more shark than that," he said.
Researchers are now studying shark pups searching for
clues as to where the mercury is entering the food chain. Study results
showed that sharks have developed a way to prevent toxic mercury
poisoning in their unborn pups.
The next step for researchers is to duplicate the prevention process in
humans. Scientists think it could reduce some of the risk of eating
fish with still-climbing mercury levels. But until scientists know more
about the mercury threat, not just in shark meat, they're urging
seafood lovers to use caution in what they eat and how often.