Shark swimming amongst hundreds of small fish in the sea.

Shark issues: What’s at stake when we order ‘flake’?

Victims of the fishing industry and misunderstanding, sharks urgently need our help.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated May 28, 2024

They have called Earth home for more than 450 million years. In fact, they were on this planet before the very first trees. But today, sharks are under threat at the hands of humans – being caught and killed for food, suffering as fishing ‘bycatch’, and targeted in cruel ‘culling programs’.

Sadly, misconceptions fuelled by popular culture have caused the public to be fearful of sharks – and as a result, their plight has received little sympathy from the general public. Despite what movies and news headlines may imply, sharks have much more of a reason to fear us than we do them. Shockingly, around 100 million sharks are killed by human activity every single year. 

By increasing our understanding of these magnificent animals and the issues they face, scientists, filmmakers, and animal protection groups are helping people better connect with them – and in turn, extend to them the care and protection they deserve.

Any shark species, protected or otherwise, can be sold as ‘flake’

It comes as a shock to many people that ‘flake’ is in fact, shark. In the food industry, shark products can also be labelled ‘huss’, ‘rock-salmon’, ‘whitefish’, ‘ocean filet’ or ‘pollock patties’, and in cosmetics, shark liver oil may be called ‘squalene’ or ‘squalane’.  

‘Flake’, however it is labelled, can even be from a shark species listed as endangered – such as the Scalloped Hammerhead, School Shark, or Whitefin Swellshark, just to name a few. 

A DNA analysis of ‘flake fillets’ sold by takeaway shops in parts of South Australia revealed four threatened species – including the short-fin mako and smooth hammerhead – were being sold as ‘flake’. Only 27% of samples were from the non-endangered gummy shark, and adhered to the Australian Fish Names Standards guidelines. Another recent study of ‘flake’ samples across Sydney, the NSW south coast, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra, revealed one in 10 was from a threatened species. This widespread issue of mislabelling ‘flake’ is not only deceiving the public, but also putting sharks and the health of the seas at risk.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A close up of a Hammerhead Shark looking at the camera, fish out of focus in the background.

The list of products that contain ingredients derived from sharks goes beyond ‘food’, and includes items from deodorant and makeup to supplements and energy drinks – but the good news is there are kinder alternatives for most, if not all. With an animal-friendly twist, there’s even a version of ‘fish and chips’ that can be enjoyed without causing harm to sharks, sea animals, or the ocean. 

The fishing industry is killing sharks, endangering marine health

The populations of sharks and rays have plummeted by more than 70% in the last 50 years, largely due to the fishing industry. 

They are targeted for their meat, fins and oil for consumers across the globe. They also fall victim to supertrawlers as ‘by-catch’, as the huge trawler nets scoop up anything, and anyone, in their path. The scale at which they are killed both directly and indirectly is endangering entire species, and the delicate ecosystems which rely on their existence. 

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A Great White Shark in the ocean, seemingly grinning.

They’re also under threat from cruel and ineffective killing programs

In addition to the fishing threats they face, sharks are also trapped and killed through state government ‘culling programs’, drum lines and shark nets. These lethal measures are not only extremely cruel to the sharks and other marine animals who are trapped and killed, but have also proven ineffective when it comes to beach-goer safety. 

There has been an average of 77 human encounters with sharks per year worldwide, of which roughly 10% have been fatal for humans. While this loss of life is devastating, some researchers theorise these instances could be a case of mistaken identity – where sharks have confused swimmers or surfers as seals, their natural prey.

With an improved understanding of the natural behaviour and senses of sharks, future encounters can be reduced and prevented. Personal safety information can be found here.

To ensure they can survive and thrive alongside us, Animals Australia has recently joined the Nets Out Now Coalition to support the use of non-lethal, evidence-based approaches to keeping beaches safe for all. 

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A White Shark being pulled out of the water with netting strangling their body.
White Sharks are protected species under the EPBC Act, yet they are among the victims of cruel culling programs.
Image credit: Envoy: Shark Cull (obtained via NSW GIPA 20-1157)

Without sharks, ecosystems could collapse 

Sharks exist at the top of the food chain, and their role is pivotal in keeping marine ecosystems healthy. If we drive them to extinction, we are heading down a dangerous path toward a dead ocean

As apex predators, they control fish populations. Without them, fish numbers would grow, and the food they feed on (smaller fish, plankton and microorganisms) would be depleted. In turn, algae and bacteria increase, and cause coral reef systems to die off – systems like the precious Great Barrier Reef.

The danger of wiping sharks out – through drumlines, shark nets, and fishing boats – affects more than just the sharks themselves. It affects all marine life, the oceans, and eventually, us.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A shark swimming just above the sandy sea floor in clear blue water.

You can help to spare sharks and protect the ocean

  • Help to shine a light on the importance of shark protection. By sharing this article, or talking about the plight of sharks with friends and family, you can help to turn the conversation around. Sharks are deeply misunderstood and extremely important to the world as we know it, and they need your help to spread the word!
  • Fill your plate with food that is kinder to all sea animals, including sharks. And you can still eat all the classics – from ‘fish and chips’ to ‘crabcakes’ – with these ocean-inspired dishes. You can order your free Veg Starter Kit here for all the information needed to explore tasty, animal-friendly food.
  • Watch Envoy: Shark Cull. Discover more about sharks with eye-opening documentary, Envoy: Shark Cull. The film is available to stream on Stan: Australia & New Zealand, Discovery+ in the UK and US.