Shark & Ray Meat Consumption Unleashed from India’s Tribal and Coastal Communities

Shark & Ray Meat Consumption Unleashed from India’s Tribal and Coastal Communities

Consumption of shark and ray meat, traditionally limited to tribal and coastal communities in India, is witnessing a shift towards new demographics, including foreign tourists and the Indian middle- and upper classes, according to a recent study. This changing trend raises concerns about the sustainability of fishing practices, particularly in India, which ranks as the world’s third-largest exploiter of sharks and rays.

The research, led by Divya Karnad from Ashoka University’s Department of Environmental Studies, identified 2,649 seafood restaurants in 10 coastal states and Union territories. Among these, 292 restaurants featured shark meat on their online menus. The study revealed that Goa had the highest percentage of restaurants selling ‘elasmobranch’ (shark and ray) meat at 35.8%, followed by Tamil Nadu (34.6%) and Maharashtra (4.6%).

Goa and Tamil Nadu collectively accounted for 70% of all establishments serving shark meat in India, amounting to approximately 251.6 tonnes annually. This is equivalent to 83,866 sharks, each weighing 3 kg, constituting 9.8% of India’s annual elasmobranch landings.

The researchers aimed to understand the impact of local consumption on various elasmobranch species in India, given that overfishing poses a significant threat to more than 95% of globally threatened shark and ray species. While shark fins have been historically targeted for delicacies like ‘shark fin soup,’ recent trends suggest an increasing demand for shark and ray meat in local markets, especially in the Global South.

Despite India’s ban on live finning and the export of shark and ray fins, fishing continues, partly fueled by legal local meat consumption. The study highlighted the consumption of various shark species, including those traditionally restricted to deeper waters, emphasizing a concerning shift in dietary habits.

Goa, known for its longstanding shark consumption tradition, revealed changing consumption patterns. The state, with lower elasmobranch landings relative to its total marine landings, indicated recent increases in demand and consumption. The study found that both local Goans and foreign tourists in Goa preferred different shark dishes, citing taste preferences, ease of consumption, and availability as key factors.

The researchers warned that local consumption poses a threat to small-bodied sharks and juvenile individuals of large-bodied species, potentially impacting recruitment into reproductive age classes. To address these concerns, the study proposed measures such as substituting alternative seafood in regional cuisines, reducing bycatch, increasing prices, and raising consumer awareness through campaigns. Additionally, emphasizing the health risks associated with consuming shark and ray meat, particularly high concentrations of heavy and toxic metals, could serve as a deterrent. The findings were published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice by authors including Divya Karnad, S Narayani, Shruthi Kottillil, Sudha Kottillil, Trisha Gupta, Alissa Barnes, Andrew Dias, and Y Chaitanya Krishna.