AN impassioned debate has broken out after the owner of a well known East Devon farm shop decided to sell-off a rare shark which has been identified as being at risk of extinction.
Mat Carter of Greendale Farm Shop at Farringdon near Exeter, has made a remorseful defence of his decision to sell the 250kg, 15ft Thresher Shark after it was landed at Brixham Fish Market as “bycatch” and has apologised for causing offence.
The Common Thresher Shark is registered as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List and noted as a declining species.
The classification falls under the “threatened” banner.
Mr Carter said he made the decision to buy the shark on Tuesday, October 8, because it would have otherwise been “wasted” and thrown into landfill.
He said he was unaware the species was on the Red List but it would not make sense for the company to have a policy not to sell fish classified as “vulnerable” as so many fish hold this classification.
He said he bought it for £80 from a mid-water sprats trawler man and sold around £250 worth of steaks from it over three days.
Mr Carter has pledged to donate the profits to a marine conservation charity.
“When the shark was hauled up it was dead,” he said. “No one was bidding on it. They wouldn’t have sold it otherwise. It was a beautiful animal and I thought it deserved better than to be thrown away.”
Mr Carter explained that he had to hire a fork lift truck and a lorry to transport the shark back to East Devon, the cost of which was more than he made from selling the steaks.
One of the fish mongers contacted a representative from the Shark Conservation Society who visited the shop.
The sale of the shark caused uproar among conservation enthusiasts who hit out at the businessman on Facebook and Twitter, describing the farm shop as “glorifying” the death of the animal.
A posting by farm shop employee on Wednesday evening, on its Facebook page, which has since been deactivated, read: “Who’s coming to buy our thresher shark steaks tomorrow? A 15ft beast landed at Brixham market. Our fishmongers really are very lucky!”
In a few hours a photo from the page was shared 28,000 times.
Criticism was heaped on the company for “censoring” of the page however Mr Carter and his wife Sam said they were forced to delete the page because the abuse became so extreme and including death threats and threats to burn down their home and business premises.
Mr Carter said marine conservation is “key” to his business and he understands people’s concerns. He explained that some initial comments posted on the business’s social media sites were posted by a young employee who “meant no harm” and whose comments were “misconstrued”.
Concerns raised included the inadvertent creation of a demand or market for shark.
Ali Hood, director of conservation at the Shark’s Trust based in Plymouth explained that Thresher Sharks are a “fairly regular” component of shark bycatch in pelagic fisheries.
She affirmed that although it is prohibited to target Threshers in the North Atlantic, it is legal to retain and land bycaught Common Threshers Alopias vulpinus.
“The issue here is not so much that the single Thresher was offered up for sale, but that there are currently no limits for the number of bycaught Threshers retained,” she added.
“Public concern and even outrage surrounding the sale of this animal is not unexpected, seeing a whole shark for sale can be emotive.
“However, the public have the option to make their feelings clear and choose not to buy the product sending a strong message to retailers that there is no market for vulnerable species – but we must appreciate that the sale of a single shark is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Overfishing and unrestricted trade have reduced populations of many shark species to concerning levels. Along with Threshers, Blue Shark, Shortfin Mako, smoothhounds and Catsharks can all be caught in unlimited amounts.
“The most effective action for shark conservation in the North East Atlantic would be the introduction of science-based catch limits for all vulnerable species.”
Television chef Tim Maddams, former River Cottage Canteen head chef who works closely with East Devon celebrity chef, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall on the Fish Fight campaign which highlights the issue of over-fishing and discards at sea, commented on the debate.
“I don’t want people to sell any trawler caught fish which I believe, should be caught either by static nets or rod and line,” he said.
“What has happened here highlights the issue of bycatching. This is one example.
“At the moment we’re trapped in a circle and rather than see fish caught by accident and dead, rather than it go to waste, we should eat it.
“Trawler fishing is one of the most indiscriminate methods of fishing.
“However the efforts of South West fishermen ought to be recognised, as they have been working harder than anyone throughout Europe to improve things.”
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