Seriously Soupy: Neurotoxins Detected In Shark Fins

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It is well known that shark finning, which is done to meet the increasing demand for shark fins, an expensive ingredient in a traditional Chinese soup, endangers marine ecosystems. What has not been known until recently, however, is if the popular delicacy - shark fin soup, posed any harm to humans.

For readers not familiar with the horrendous practice of shark finning, here's how it is done. The sharks are caught, their fins chopped, and the maimed sharks are tossed back into the sea where they are either preyed upon, or drown, or bleed to death. The shark fins can cost hundreds of dollars unlike the shark meat, which is relatively low priced because of its very low demand.

Now, a new study shows that consumption of shark fins may pose health risks to humans.

Researchers from University of Miami sampled fin clips from seven different species of sharks collected in South Florida coastal waters and analyzed its contents. Upon examination, they detected cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA (ß-N-methylamino-L-alanine) in the fins of all species with concentrations ranging from 144 to 1836 ng/mg wet weight.

Mind you, the neurotoxin BMAA has been linked to the development of neurodegenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

The report suggests that consumption of shark fins may increase the risk for human exposure to the cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA. Until more is known about the possible link of BMAA to Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, it may be prudent to limit exposure of BMAA in the human diet, according to the researchers.

The research findings appear in the journal Marine Drugs.

It is estimated that 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins to appease the booming appetite for shark fin soup. This popular delicacy, which has its roots in China, is believed, by some, to be a health booster, life prolonger and aphrodisiac, though there is no scientific proof to support such beliefs.

Shark fin soup is usually served at special occasions such as weddings and banquets in many parts of Asia, especially China. This soup is also served at Chinese restaurants in the United States.

The European Union is the world's largest exporter of shark fins. Last November, the European Commission proposed a full ban on shark finning.

Though finning was illegal under American law, there were some loopholes in the existing ban on shark finning. To close the major enforcement loophole in the existing law and give the much-needed protection to sharks, the Shark Conservation Act was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011.

States like California, Oregon, Hawaii and Washington have already banned the sale of shark fins. In New York, the shark fin ban is expected to go into effect in January 2013.

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