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Hake, flake, shark……

A common misconception and source of confusion are hake and flake the same, and what is flake?

Straight up, hake is not flake.

Hake are members of the cod family and can be found at depths of over 1,000 metres. A total of 12 hake species are known in the family of Merlucciidae, and even though taste and texture can vary by species they all tend to have a milder taste, softer texture and smaller flake than cod.

So what is Flake?

Flake that is on every Fish n Chip shop menu in Melbourne and Southern Australia but just about nowhere else in the world.

The name flake is commonly used as a name for any type of shark meat. Most fishmongers and fish and chip shops use the word to cover every species of shark that is either caught in Australian waters or has been imported        

It’s actually a bit of a mystery.  Flake has been used in Australia since the 1920s as an umbrella term for shark.  Your deep-fried Friday night feast could be any of the 150-200 species of shark targeted by commercial fisheries or accidentally caught as by-catch, including the vulnerable Shortfin Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) and School Shark (Galerohinus galeus), and the near threatened Bronze Whaler (Carcharhinus brachyurus).

The term ‘flake’ is an Australian fish name standard that only applies to two species of gummy shark (one from Australia and one from New Zealand). In reality, the term ‘flake’ is commonly used for any shark meat and this can mean any species of shark including those under threat.

In April 2014 the Australian Fish Names Committee decreed that flake could only refer to two species: Gummy Shark (Mustelus antarcticus) and Rig/New Zealand Gummy Shark (Mustelus lenticulatus).  This is supposed to lessen the confusion for consumers and crack down on poorly managed international fisheries targeting threatened sharks (so-called ‘fake flake’), but the standards are voluntary.

Many species of Shark and Dogfish are caught Australia-wide and when filleted are generally marketed as ‘Flake’, especially in VIC. ‘Flake’ has become ubiquitous with Australian fish and chips, and the dangerously unspecific term poses a threat to management of fisheries and the consumer’s ability to make an informed choice about their purchase.

When filleted and skinned, the fillets are white and boneless with firm flaky flesh, an indication of the reason for their ongoing popularity. Shark is also imported as frozen fillets from New Zealand, South Africa and Taiwan.

Some shark species are also heavily exploited in wasteful fisheries targeting their fins only. Though the practice of ‘finning’ sharks and throwing live carcasses overboard has been banned in Australia, the fishing of sharks for their fins continues, fuelled by demand for the Cantonese dish ‘Shark-Fin Soup’. This is the cause of diminishing and endangered shark populations worldwide.

Sharks are at the top of the marine food chain. As carnivores, they play a vital role in maintaining the oceans’ ecologically delicate balance between predators and prey. Removing this apex predator from the system creates an imbalance that could severely alter marine ecosystems. Although there is very little basic information on a lot of shark species (what age they grow to or reach sexual maturity), in general, with their slow growth and reproduction rates, sharks are particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure.

Shark and Dogfish species are taken by targeted gillnet, trawl and line fisheries, and as bycatch of many Australian trawl fisheries.

So why does Redfish sell Gummy Shark?…….

Gummy Shark (Mustelus antarcticus) in Australia is considered sustainable.  The stocks are closely monitored and managed by state and Commonwealth governments.  Fishing is done mostly with gillnets and longlines in the demersal zone of the sea- just above the sea bed.  Both methods are prone to by-catch of non-targeted fishes and other sea creatures.  To decrease the snaring of seals and dolphins some sectors of the fisheries have been closed, and since 2011 gillnets have to be clean before they are set to reduce their attraction to seabirds.

Gummy Shark is a sustainable species found throughout Australia’s temperate waters. It occurs from Geraldton in WA around to Jervis Bay in NSW, and in TAS. There is also an undefined stock in NSW from Newcastle north to the Clarence River.

Gummy sharks are a smaller species of shark that, unlike other larger species of shark, reproduces relatively quickly and produces a number of pups. These factors mean that fishing for this species can be managed at sustainable levels if managed well.

The Western Australian component of the stock was recently assessed using a risk-based weight of evidence approach using all available lines of evidence, including simulated biomass trajectories derived from a combination of demographic modelling and catch-only stock reduction analysis [Braccini et al. in prep]. This assessment estimated a “Low” current risk level for the Gummy Shark stock, with 87 per cent, 100 per cent and 100 per cent of the simulated current (2015–16) relative total biomass trajectories being above the target, threshold and limit biomass reference points, respectively [Braccini et al. in prep]. Therefore, this part of the biological stock is not considered to be recruitment impaired.

The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted, recruitment is unlikely to be impaired, and the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Southern Australia biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

Our main supplier of Gummy Shark, Jason Scimone uses gillnets to catch his shark and is bound by many regulations on catch weight, size and even the size of the holes in the nets, to name just a few.

To ensure that we only get Gummy Shark we buy whole trunks and with their distinctive markings it is very easy to tell if we are getting what I want. Just another way we at REDFISH try harder to deliver the best and are looking after the future.