“If you’re a man and ate this fish, you would have a busy night with your woman. Guaranteed!” said a fish seller at Paotere fish market in Makassar during a recent visit. He was in the middle of cutting open a female black tip reef shark pregnant with three pups.
I was so tempted to reply, “Whatever happened to STMJ (“susu-telur-madu-jahe,” a traditional concoction of milk, egg yolk, honey and ginger for stamina)? Do people still drink it for aphrodisiac?”
“Especially the young, their meat tastes very tender! They’re best for grilling!” he continued, holding an unborn pup in his hands. He smiled with pride. The blood of the poor female predator puddled around his feet.
As he continued mutilating the female shark, he kept on coaxing me to either buy the baby sharks or their mother’s meat. He said I should make a quick decision because shark meat was very popular and could be sold out within minutes.
He wasn’t talking nonsense, of course. When I looked around, a crowd had already gathered, waiting for their shark meat. Some even pre-ordered their share.
I asked the seller if he was aware that shark meat is poisonous. “Poisonous? Really? No way! Where did you hear that? All I know is, it tastes great and makes me a lot of money!”
Being Left in the Dark
It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every year.
That was a wake-up call to the fact that the road to banning shark trading is still long and winding. Blaming the fishermen just wouldn’t solve the problem. It’s the consumers who urgently need to receive information that consuming shark meat is bad for their health because it contains high levels of mercury.
Mercury consumption, even at low doses, can be very dangerous, especially for children and pregnant women. Brain damage leading to mental disabilities is one of the side effects, in addition to increasing the risk of heart disease. If shark meat is believed to increase masculinity, as claimed by those fishermen in Paotere, ironically, the mercury content lowers sperm count and, in the long run, causes erectile dysfunction and even sterility.
Sharks are prehistoric animals that have gone through many evolutions over the course of 420 million years. Yes, they’re as ancient as the dinosaurs. Sharks are the top predators in the food chain of the marine ecosystem. They eat smaller fish in the sea that already have mercury in their meat. The mercury level in the sea has now significantly increased as there are more and more off-shore pollution.
Sharks can live up to 50 years — or sometimes more — and they eat a lot of fish during their lifetime. Imagine the amount of the mercury that accumulates in sharks. When humans eat any shark products, the accumulated mercury is transferred into their bodies.
Mercury content cannot be reduced by cooking. When it’s already there, it stays there.
Consuming sharks has more dangers, not only to our bodies but also to the environment. Without sharks, there will be no predators to eat the smaller fish, which can cause their population to become uncontrollable. Sharks with, their great sense of smell, are mainly attracted to wounded or sick fish. So in this case, sharks help get rid of the bad quality fish from the sea.
Thus, if we want to eat good quality fish or other seafood items, we should let sharks help us. We need sharks alive more than when they’re served in a bowl.
What to Do?
What to do if you find shark items on a restaurant menu? Ask for the restaurant manager and clearly state that you changed your mind about eating there because they serve shark items. Tell them it is not acceptable to serve sharks. Sharks are both poisonous and endangered species.
The action should start from us, customers, to convince those fishermen to stop catching sharks. If we don’t buy, they will finally get the message that the tender meat of a baby shark just isn’t worth the killing.
And it’s high time the authorities took the initiative to spread the news how shark meat contains at least 1,400 micrograms of mercury per kilogram.
Contrary to popular belief, only a few shark species are dangerous to humans. Sharks don’t eat humans. It’s us, humans, they’re more afraid of because we slaughter them mercilessly in the name of having a busy night with a certain woman.