Food by VICE

Conservationists Fuming After Dead Shark Carcass 'Paraded' and Cooked at Seafood Festival

The shark was "bycatch" that had been snared by a commercial fishing net, but ocean advocates were not impressed.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Sep 18 2019, 11:00am

Photo: Getty Images

The website for the Plymouth Seafood Festival, held annually in the seaside town of Plymouth, England, describes the event as "a vibrant celebration of the incredible sustainably caught fresh fish and seafood on offer in Britain’s Ocean City." This year, its packed daily schedule promised cooking demonstrations from Dan the Fish Man, a stand passing out samples of fresh mackerel, and a children's crabbing competition.

What attendees probably didn't expect was to see a large, dead blue shark being held overhead by two men who—in the words of their critics—"paraded it" around town, before it was cut into pieces, cooked, and passed out to the crowd.

Although the shark was "bycatch" that had been inadvertently snared by a commercial fishing net, conservationists still think that there could've literally been a better way of handling the situation. "As an ocean conservation charity, we do not condone the eating of blue shark and were disappointed to see that a blue shark was shown off as well as being featured on the chef’s stage," a spokesperson for the Ocean Conservation Trust told CNN in a statement, adding that maybe it wasn't a great idea to give people a taste of a "near threatened" species.

"We feel that showing the public how to cook this species and then offering them the chance to eat it at such a widely attended event could be damaging, encouraging intrigue and thus demand for blue shark on people's plates moving forward," she continued.

What made the situation worse—at least for animal lovers, or just people who didn't need to see a huge dead fish—was that a video of the incident was posted to the Instagram page for Visit Plymouth, the city's tourist board. "We have a Blue Shark here today!" the caption read. "Ben will be cooking it later on this afternoon." (The video has since been deleted.)

The Visit Plymouth Instagram account had been handed off to the Boathouse Cafe for the day, and the restaurant is basically saying that it didn't have a choice but to cook the shark. "Had we not cooked this beautiful fish today, it was destined to be used as crab pot bait," a spokesperson told The Telegraph. "The Boathouse does not condone shark fishing, we are firmly against the targeting of sharks for sport or commercially. However, we are also against the shameful waste of fish."

Some social media users have supported the restaurant's decision. One man who claimed to be at the festival said that the shark was already dead when it was pulled out of the net. "It was authorised by the correct officials to ensure that it was allowed to be consumed," he commented. Others think that there probably could've been a way to more discreetly (or tastefully) deliver the shark to the chefs who prepared it. "Ok, so it was a bycatch, fair enough, cook it and eat it," another resident wrote. "But don't parade it like a trophy first. To me that is wrong."

The Plymouth Waterfront Partnership, which organizes the festival, told PlymouthLive that it was "surprised and disappointed" by the incident, and the Plymouth City Council said that it "did not condone what happened." Both organizations said that they would be taking steps to ensure that a similar situation didn't happen again.

The 8th Annual Plymouth Seafood Festival has been scheduled for September 12-13, 2020. If you need to carry a dead shark through the city, it's probably best to do it before then.