Biting food that bites

Stanley Larsen of Menemsha Fish Market can now buy and sell shark.


Stanley Larsen, owner of Menemsha Fish Market, received his shark dealer certificate in March at the 2019 Atlantic Shark Identification Workshop, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Larsen’s certificate is good for three years, and allows him to buy and sell certain shark species out of Menemsha Fish Market. The course covers the different types of sharks found in Atlantic waters, how to identify them by their fins, and what can and can’t be sold. Atlantic shark dealers must have the certification to purchase, trade, or barter Atlantic sharks. 

According to NOAA, the workshop is designed to “reduce the number of unknown and improperly identified sharks reported in the dealer reporting form, and to increase the accuracy of species-specific dealer-reported information, quota monitoring, and the data used in stock assessments. These workshops train shark dealer permit holders, or their proxies, to properly identify Atlantic shark carcasses.

Permitted sharks include blacktip, spinner, bull, tiger, lemon, nurse, sharpnose, blacknose, bonnethead, finetooth, blue, porbeagle, shortfin mako, thresher, and smooth dogfish. 

Whitetip silky, and great, scalloped, and smooth hammerheads are also permitted, but dealers can’t buy them if the owner of the fishing boat has pelagic longline gear on board. Dealers are also not allowed to purchase these sharks from the owner of a fishing vessel that has been issued both a highly migratory species (HMS) charter permit and a commercial shark permit when tuna, swordfish, or billfish are on board the vessel, offloaded, or being offloaded. 

Prohibited shark species include atlantic angel, basking, bigeye sand tiger, bigeye sixgill, bigeye thresher, bignose, Caribbean reef, Caribbean sharpnose, dusky, galapagos, longfin mako, narrowtooth, night, sand tiger, sevengill, silky, sixgill, smalltail, whale, and great white.

NOAA implements stock assessments, annual quotas, size limits, gear restrictions, area closures, and other rules to make sure fishermen and women don’t catch too many sharks.

The eight-hour intensive course took place in Florida. Larsen was in a class of 20 people, including other fish market owners and law enforcement personnel, who were rigorously tested.

Larsen came home from the class with a head full of knowledge and two packed folders of material and step-by-step guides on shark identification. Identifying a shark starts with examining its tail, then checking its teeth, dorsal ridge, and fins. 

While Larsen plans to sell shark, he isn’t the only dealer — or Larsen — that has tried to sell shark on-Island. Larsen’s cousin Louie, the former owner of Net Result who still works there, has the same shark dealer certificate. The Net Result will order shark from a wholesaler if a customer specifically asks for it, but otherwise does not stock it, and hasn’t sold any this year.

Larsen’s other cousin, and Louie’s brother, Danny, who owns Edgartown Seafood Market, told The Times he has sold shark before, but doesn’t anymore due to the strict rules and limited species available off the Vineyard.

“We’ve done it before. The reason we don’t do it is because it just wasn’t feasible,” he said.

John’s Fish Market in Vineyard Haven also sells shark, but only when available.

While eager to sell, Larsen has yet to have fishermen and women bring him any sharks. Anyone catching sharks also needs to be properly certified. 

Once shark catches start coming in, Larsen expects to get a lot of mako and thresher to sell due to their popularity off Vineyard shores. Larsen says mako shark is similar to swordfish, and can go for $14 to $20 per pound.

Larsen has caught plenty of sharks, including great whites, himself over the years. He started fishing for sharks in the late 1980s. 

Larsen’s decision to get the certification was simple — he wanted to buy and sell shark. “I needed the permit to do that kind of species,” he said.