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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.

shark meat

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 Hueter.

The FDA continues to monitor the mercury threat and could revise its consumption recommendations.


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.

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