Skip to main content

Shark fin, a symbol of wealth and good fortune may pose health risks: the case of mercury


There is a lack of information concerning human health risks due to exposure to mercury contained in shark fins, through dietary intake. Health risk assessment of shark fins, collected from 5 cities in China: Hong Kong (HK), Beijing, Shanghai (SH), Haikou (HN) and Wenzhou (WZ), was conducted, based on total mercury and methylmercury, and analyzed by a cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry equipped with high-performance liquid chromatography, respectively. The results showed that 16.8 % samples from HK, 8.3 % from SH, 33.3 % from HN, and 16.8 % from WZ were regarded as unsafe for human consumption. Extremely high consumption rates of shark fins for an adult and a child (0.150 and 0.0807 kg/day, respectively), at 95th centile, samples from WZ demonstrated high non-cancer risks (adverse health effects) (Hazard Quotient = 16.0) on adults (aged 25–65), and samples from SH, HN and WZ also showed high non-cancer risks (Hazard Quotient = 12.9, 21.0, and 34.4, respectively) on children (aged 1–7). Consumption of shark fins may be detrimental to human health.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  • Branco, V., Vale, C., Canário, J., & Santos, M. N. (2007). Mercury and selenium in blue shark (Prionace glauca, L. 1758) and swordfish (Xiphias gladius, L. 1758) from two areas of the Atlantic Ocean. Environment Pollution, 150(3), 373–380.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Caffrey, J. M., Landing, W. M., Nolek, S. D., Gosnell, K. J., Bagui, S. S., & Bagui, S. C. (2010). Atmospheric deposition of mercury and major ions to the Pensacola (Florida) watershed: Spatial, seasonal, and inter-annual variability. Atmospheric Chemistry Physics, 10(2), 4593–4616.

    Google Scholar 

  • Census and Statistics Department. (2012). HONG KONG: THE FACTS. Published by the Information Services Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.

  • Census and Statistics Department. (2009). Hong Kong Census Trade Statistic. Published by the Information Services Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.

  • Cheng, Z., Liang, P., Shao, D. D., Wu, S. C., Nie, X. P., Chen, K. C., et al. (2011). Mercury biomagnification in the aquaculture pond ecosystem in the Pearl River delta. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 61(3), 491–499.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Clarke, S. C., McAllister, M. K., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Kirkwood, G. P., Michielsens, C. G. J., Agnew, D. J., et al. (2006). Global estimates of shark catches using trade record from commercial markets. Ecology Letters, 9(10), 1115–1126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cornish, A. S., Ng, W. C., Ho, V. C. M., Wong, H. L., Lam, J. C. W., Lam, P. K. S., et al. (2007). Trace metals and organochlorines in the bamboo shark Chiloscyllium plagiosum from the southern waters of Hong Kong, China. Science of the Total Environment, 375(1–3), 335–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Davis, J. A., May, M. D., Greenfield, B. K., Fairey, R., Roberts, C., Ichikawa, G. et al. (2002). Contaminant concentrations in sport fish from San Francisco Bay, 1997, 44 (10), 1117–1129.

  • Dickman, M. D., Leung, C. K. M., & Leong, M. K. H. (1998). Hong Kong male subfertility links to mercury in human hair and fish. Science of the Total Environment, 214(1–3), 165–174.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • EC (European Commission) (2001). Commission Regulation (EC) No. 466/2001, Setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs dated 8 March 2001 (as amended by Commission Regulation (EC) No. 221/2002 dated 6 February 2002). Accessed 08 October 2012.

  • Endo, T., Hisamichi, Y., Haraguchi, K., Kato, Y., Ohta, C., & Koga, N. (2008). Hg, Zn and Cu levels in the muscle and liver of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) from the coast of Ishigaki Island, Japan: Relationship between metal concentrations and body length. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 56(10), 1774–1780.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Escobar-Sánchez, O., Galván-Magaña, F., & Rosíles-Martínez, R. (2010). Mercury and selenium bioaccumulation in the smooth hammerhead shark, Sphyrna zygaena Linnaeus, from the Mexican Pacific Ocean. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 84(4), 488–491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Escobar-Sánchez, O., Galván-Magaña, F., & Rosíles-Martínez, R. (2011). Biomagnification of mercury and selenium in blue shark Prionace glauca from the Pacific Ocean off Mexico. Biological Trace Element Research, 144(1–3), 550–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fok, T. F., Lam, H. S., Ng, P. C., Yip, A. S., Sin, N. C., Chan, I. H., et al. (2007). Fetal methylmercury exposure as measured by cord blood mercury concentrations in a mother-infant cohort in Hong Kong. Environment International, 33(1), 84–92.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand). (2004). Mercury in fish (Australia only).

  • Health Canada (2007). Health Canada’s revised assessment of mercury in fish enhances protection while reflecting advice in Canada’s Food Guide.

  • Health Canada (2008). Updating the existing risk management strategy for mercury in retail fish.

  • Hintelmann, H., Keppel-Jones, K., & Evans, R. D. (2009). Constants of mercury methylation and demethylation rates in sediments and comparison of tracer and ambient mercury availability. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 19(9), 2204–2211.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives). (2004). Evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants (Sixty-first report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives).WHO Technical Report Series, No. 922.

  • Ko, L. Y. Y., Qin, Y. Y., & Wong, M. H. (2012). Impacts of heavy metals on child health and development. In M. H. Wong (Ed.), Environmental contamination: Health risks, bioavailability and bioremediation. New York: CRC Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kondo, K. (2000). Congenital Minamata disease: Warning from Japan’s experience. Journal of Child Neurology, 15(7), 458–464.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Krystek, P., & Pitsema, R. (2004). Determination of methylmercury and inorganic mercury in shark fillets. Applied Organometallic Chemistry, 18(12), 640–645.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, M. M., Wu-williams, A., Whittemore, A. S., Zheng, S., Gallagher, R., The, C. Z., et al. (1994). Comparison of dietary habits, physical-activity and body-size among Chinese in North-America and China. International Journal of Epidemiology, 23(5), 984–990.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Leung, S., Chan, S., Lui, S., Lee, W., & Davies, D. (2000). Growth and nutrition of Hong Kong children aged 0–7 years. The Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 36(1), 56–65.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • MOE (Ministry of the Environment). (2002). Minamata disease the history and measures. Environmental health department, Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan.

  • Moore, D. R. J., Sample, B. E., Suter, G. W., Parkhurst, B. R., & Teed, R. S. (1999). Probabilistic risk assessment of the effects of methylmercury and PCBs on mink and kingfishers along east fork poplar creek, oak ridge, Tennessee, USA. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 18(12), 2941–2953.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Morel, F. M. M., Kraepiel, A. M. L., & Amyot, M. (1998). The chemical cycle and bioaccumulation of mercury. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 29, 543–566.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mull, C. G., Blasius, M. E., O’Sullivan, J. B., & Lowe, C. G. (2012). Global perspectives on the Biology and life history of the white shark, Chapter 5. California: CRC Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • NYSDH (New York State Department of Health). (2007). Information for a Healthy New York. Hopewell Precision Area Contamination. Appendix C—NYS DOH Procedure for Evaluating Potential Health Risks for Contaminants of Concern. Accessed 01 February 2013.

  • Penedo de Pinho, A., Davée Guimarães, J. R., Martins, A. S., Costa, P. A., Olavo, G., & Valentin, J. (2002). Total mercury in muscle tissue of five shark species from Brazilian offshore waters: Effects of feeding habit, sex, and length. Environmental Research, 89(3), 250–258.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pethybridge, H., Butler, E. C. V., Cossa, D., Daley, R., & Boudou, A. (2012). Trophic structure and biomagnification of mercury in an assemblage of deepwater chondrichthyans from southeastern Australia. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 451, 163–174.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pethybridge, H., Cossa, D., & Butler, E. C. V. (2010). Mercury in 16 demersal sharks from southeast Australia: Biotic and abiotic sources of variation and consumer health implications. Marine Environmental Research, 69(1), 18–26.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Sompongchaiyakul, P., Hantow, J., Sornkrut, S., Sumontha, M., Jayasinghe, R. P. P. K. (2007). An assessment of mercury concentration in fish tissues caught from three compartments of the Bay of Bengal. The Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management in the Bay of Bengal, pp 221-232. Accessed 08 October 2012.

  • Storelli, M. M., Ceci, E., Storelli, A., & Marcotrigiano, G. O. (2003). Polychlorinated biphenyl, heavy metal and methylmercury residues in hammerhead sharks: contaminant status and assessment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 46(8), 1035–1039.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Storelli, M. M., Stuffle, R. G., & Marcotrigiano, G. (2002). Mercury accumulation and speciation in muscle tissue of different species of sharks from Mediterranean Sea, Italy. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 68(2), 201–210.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Streets, D. G., Hao, J. M., Wu, Y., Jiang, J. K., Chan, M., Tian, H. Z., et al. (2005). Anthropogenic mercury emissions in China. Atmospheric Environment, 39(40), 7789–7806.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • The 8 restaurant. (2009). Grand Lisboa. Macau: Avenida de Lisboa.

    Google Scholar 

  • Turoczy, N. J., Laurenson, L. J. B., Allinson, G., Nishikawa, M., Lambert, D. F., & Smith, C. (2000). Observations on metal concentrations in three species of shark (Deania calcea, Centroscymnus crepidater, and Centroscymnus owstoni) from southeastern Australian waters. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 48(9), 4357–4364.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (1989). Risk assessment guidance for superfund, Vol. I: Human Health Evaluation Manual. EPA/540/1-89/002. Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Washington, DC, USA.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (1991). Human health evaluation manual, supplemental guidance: “Standard default exposure factors”. OSWER Directive 9285.6-03. Washington, DC, USA.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2000). Guidance for assessing chemical contaminant, data for use in fish advisories. Vol. 1: fish sampling and analysis, third ed. EPA 823-R-95-007. Office of Water, Washington, DC, USA.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2001a). Method 1630: Methylmercury in water by distillation, aqueous ethylation, purge and trap, and CVAFS US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Office of Science and Technology Engineering and Analysis Division (4303), 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20460, pp 1–41.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2001b). Water quality criterion for the protection of human health: Methylmercury. Office of Science and Technology Office of Water, Washington, DC, USA.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2005). Method 245.7: Mercury in water by cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry. US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Office of Science and Technology Engineering and Analysis Division (4303), 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, USA.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2012). Mercury: Methylmercury effects. Accessed 08 November 2012.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2013a). How people are exposed to mercury. Washington, DC, USA. Accessed 22 January 2014.

  • US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). (2013b). Mid Atlantic risk assessment. Regional Screening Level (RSL) Summary Table. Accessed 08 March 2013.

  • US FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration). (2004). What we need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish: Advice for Women Who Might Become Pregnant Women Who are Pregnant Nursing Mothers Young Children.

  • US FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration). (2007). CPG Sec. 540.600 Fish, Shellfish, Crustaceans and other Aquatic Animals—Fresh, Frozen or Processed—Methyl Mercury.

  • US EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). (2007). Risk assessment for noncancer effects. Washington, DC, USA.

  • Vannuccini, S. (1999). Shark utilization, marketing and trade. Rome, Italy: FAO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vas, P., Gordon, J. D. M., Fielden, P. R., & Overnell, J. (1993). The trace metal ecology of ichthyofauna in the Rockall Trough, north-eastern Atlantic. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 26, 607–612.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Weech, S. A., Scheuhammer, A. M., Elliott, J. E., & Cheng, K. M. (2004). Mercury in fish from the Pinchi Lake Region, British Columbia, Canada. Environmental Pollution, 131(2), 275–286.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • WHO (World health organization). (2013). Mercury and health. Accessed 22 January 2014.

  • Yoshida, M. (1998). Susceptibility of metallothionein-null mice to the behavioral alterations caused by exposure to mercury vapor at human-relevant concentration. Journal of Toxicological Sciences, 80(1), 69–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhang, L., & Wong, M. H. (2007). Environmental mercury contamination in China: Sources and impacts. Environment International, 33(1), 108–121.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank WildAid and the Seed Collaborative Research Fund from the State Key Laboratory in Marine Pollution (SCRF0003) for financial support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ming Hung Wong.

Additional information

Yu Bon Man and Sheng Chun Wu have contributed equally to this work.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOC 88 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Man, Y.B., Wu, S.C. & Wong, M.H. Shark fin, a symbol of wealth and good fortune may pose health risks: the case of mercury. Environ Geochem Health 36, 1015–1027 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Shark fins
  • Non-cancer risk
  • Health risk assessment