How to Clean and Fillet a Shark
There are a number of different methods that can be used to prepare and fillet a shark, and there is no single, best one to choose from. Essentially, all you need to do is chop off the head, tail and cut the shark lengthwise down the middle. However, the following steps can make the process easier and safer.
One of the biggest advantages to cutting off the tail of the shark first is that the blood, bodily fluids and ammonia inside can drain out as quickly as possible. The best thing to do is hang the shark from its head in order to ensure maximum drainage, but make sure that the blood and fluids drain into the water or a large container. Sharks are messy, and the last thing you want is to get inundated with fluids as they spill and drip out of the body.
Cutting off the head obviously neutralizes the potential threat of getting bitten as the shark struggles on the ground or deck. However, doing so can also slow the time that it takes for blood to drain. Keep in mind that the shark can still live for quite some time with it’s head severed. The jaws can open and close and its heart can beat even after it has been removed. It’s important that the shark is secured before you start cutting off the head in order to maximize safety.
To remove the head, simply cut it completely off at a point just behind the gills. Sever the meat as well as its spine. To remove the tail, cut it from the body a few inches above where it tapers into the tail fin. You want to make the cut high enough along the body to sever the spine and expose the internal cavity.
Make a cut just beneath the backbone from head to tail while the shark is placed on its belly. The aim of this cut is to open up the internal cavity of the shark, but you want to try and avoid piercing or slicing through the organs. As you are making your way to the rear of the shark, you can cut at a downward angle as the internal cavity tapers. End the cut just before the anal area, and you now have a thick, single piece of meat to work with.
Discard the rest of the shark, unless you want the fins, and place the piece of meat, skin side down, on the ground or work area. Gently cut away any entrails, fatty parts or other material that may be attached to the meat. Give it a good rinse to get rid of any remaining blood or impurities.
The next step is to remove the spine from the fillet. Take the fillet knife and make a cut along the edge of the spine from front to back. Try to cut as close to the spine as possible to maximize the amount of meat that you can harvest. Repeat for the other side of the spine, and you should be left with two long strips of meat.
The last step is to peel off the skin from the meat. You can start by making a small cut under the skin at the front or back of the meat to give you a hand-hold that can be pulled. Pull off the skin. This may take some effort as the skin is thick and tough. However, it will only take a couple of tries before you get a feel for how much force is needed to create a clean pull. Cut away any remaining items so that nothing remains but meat. The meat can now be filleted on-site or stored in a cooler with ice until you get home.
Remember to exercise extreme caution when working with large sharks with sharp teeth. Keep in mind that a struggling shark can also thrash its tail and easily get loose on the deck or ground. It is essential to have it immobilized and secured before making any cuts to avoid injury.
Consider keeping and filleting the next shark you catch, as long as it is not a protected species, because its meat is just as beneficial as other forms of seafood. You never know when you may need to rely on shark meat for your next meal. Following these steps for processing your catch can minimize risk while helping you to get food from the shark as quickly as possible.