One of the most consumed fish in the country, the shark is, in fact, the commercial name for a set of animal cuts that include several species of sharks and even rays. This is what experts say in the study of elasmobranchs (a group of sharks and rays).
To publicize the topic, the NGO Sea Shepherd Brazil recently created the Cação É Tubarão campaign.
The consumption of dogfish brings serious environmental problems, say the activists, since these animals are seriously threatened around the world. Populations have been declining since the 1990 decade, and about 30% of species known today are at risk of extinction.
According to data collected by Sbeel (Brazilian Society for the Study of Elasmobranchs), Brazil is the main consumer and importer of dog meat in the world.
” We have a production of 20 thousand tons per year of shark and ray meat and, since 2012, we also import the same amount, so we doubled our demand”, says Rodrigo Barreto, researcher at Cepsul/ICMBio and executive secretary of Sbeel.
Despite the high consumption, about 7 in each 10 Brazilians do not know that dogfish is shark or ray meat, indicates a survey with more than 5.000 people made by the entity in August of this year.
“Under the umbrella of ‘dogfish’ we have species that are not consumed anywhere else in the world, only in countries like Mexico , Brazil and other s in which there is a lack of information, making these places centers for the storage of the meat of these animals”, says Barreto.
Recently the proposal to purchase dogfish meat to supply school lunches at São Paulo’s municipal education network was the target of criticism from Sea Shepherd. In reaction, the NGO filed an online petition to overturn the notice. Until the day 10 of November, when the trading session was postponed for the first time, the text had gathered more than 1.300 signatures.
In a note sent on Tuesday night (20), the city of SP, through of the Municipal Department of Education, informed that the bidding in question was revoked, and the decision, published in the Official Gazette of the last Wednesday (24). The management did not comment on the reasons for the withdrawal.
Since 2009 Brazil, as other countries have done since, has adopted laws to prohibit the practice known as finning, name given to the removal of shark fins for sale in specialized markets, while the rest of the animal’s body —the “cigar”— is thrown into the sea.
Only, with the prohibition , countries that consumed the meat began to receive in their ports the whole animals, no longer the carcasses. The fins are then usually cut and sold, mainly to the Chinese market, where they can cost up to US$ 5,000 (about R$ 28 thousand), and the meat is used for consumption.
“The finning ban did not inhibit the fishing of these animals, on the contrary, it generated a logistical change for fishing companies, which now need to make more trips to the coast of countries that they are interested in shark meat. And the cost is low because they profit from the fins”, says Nathalie Gil, executive director of Sea Shepherd Brasil.
How fish reach the final consumer already cleaned and in the shape of slices, it is more difficult to differentiate one species from another. “And in many cases, sellers cut the animals into different shapes to mask their appearance, which allows identification”, says Gil.
This is what happens, for example, with the hammerhead shark , a species included in the ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation) list as critically endangered. It is common to see the animal in fish markets with its head cut diagonally, to disguise it.
As there is no distinction of species in the product that is popularly called dog, the inspection of organs how IBAMA or the Ministry of Agriculture is harmed. Gil also explains that the scrapping of institutions and the practice of self-inspection on vessels aggravate the situation.
“There are not enough financial resources from inspection agencies, such as Ibama, to carry out the genetic sequencing of all the species that make up the meat of ‘dog.’ And on the boats the so-called scouts, who oversee the fishing of endangered species, are hired by the companies and do not report it”, he says.
To the biologist and professor at Unesp on the coast of São Paulo and president of Sbeel, Otto Bismarck, even the consumption considered “sustainable” of sharks and rays should not exist. “There is no sustainable fishing when talking about sharks and rays because, as they are large predatory animals, it is the same thing as saying that we are going to create the hunting industry of the jaguar. It’s unfeasible”, he says.
Bismarck remembers that these are top-of-the-range animals and have biological characteristics that end up accelerating their population decline even further when they are fished in a predatory way.
“These are species with low production of offspring, long gestation time, take time to reach reproductive age. So the math is simple: if more individuals die than are born, there will be a population imbalance,” he explains.
The reduction in shark populations has consequences for marine ecosystems, as it In smaller amounts, the animals on which they feed grow explosively.
The rays are even more threatened, explains the biologist, because around them 28 freshwater species that exist in South America have suffered from environmental degradation. “In addition, there is a specific demand for skate meat in the South and Northeast regions of the country, reducing these populations”, he says.
In addition to the environmental problem, sharks and rays accumulate heavy metals and other elements in the body that can be harmful to health.
The FDA (agency that regulates food and medicine in the US) contraindicates the consumption of dogfish by pregnant women, nursing mothers or children, due to the high content of mercury present in these fish, that can affect development.
“The problem is that each country adopts a reference value, and Brazil’s is two to three times what is recommended in the United States”, says Barreto.