Scandinavian fishermen have used shark liver oil since the 16th century and is written about by Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Chinese and Japanese peoples. A folk remedy for centuries, shark liver oil is a rich source of a variety of nutrients, including vitamins A, D and E, as well as the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The vitamin A content is 30 % higher then that of cod liver oil.
The shark liver oil has been used for decades to promote wound healing and as a general remedy for conditions of the respiratory tract and the digestive system. It appears as a fatty yellow to brown oil. This liver oil, from the cold-water sharks, is a by-product. Sharks have large livers, equal to a quarter of the total body weight, which in turn produces vast qualities of the oil. The shark meat and fins are used for other purposes throughout the world.
Shark Industry in Florida
In the first half of the twentieth century, the shark liver oil supplied Vitamin A which was essential for the general public. Along the eastern coast of Florida, in the area known as Salerno, 25 miles north of West Palm Beach, the shark industry was dominate in the 1930s. A large business, named Shark Industries – Fisheries, Inc., worked out of the St. Lucie River and Inlet to the Atlantic Ocean.
Charles L. Mooney, the owner, supplied much of the needed shark liver oil, along with the outer skin hide of the sharks. These raw materials were shipped off to various processing plants. One of the largest and well known tannery for the shark hide was the Newark Tannery Company in New Jersey. It tanned the shark hides which were then produced into sturdy leather products.
Borden Milk Company and Sharks
In the 1940s shark liver oil supplies which had also came from Asia and Scandinavian nations was cut off due to World War II. To boost supplies, the American Borden Milk Company purchased the Shark Fisheries, Inc. of Salerno to expand the production of this needed oil. Borden was using the shark liver oil to fortify their milk products.
From the time in the 1930s when 10 to 20 sharks were caught off the coast of Salerno to 60 or more sharks per day caught under the Borden Milk Company direction, the expansion was tremendous. The additional new equipment to the plant also allowed the processing of a 1,000 pounds of shark liver within ten minutes.
Another new by-product was shark repellent developed by Stewart Springer, called ‘Shark Chaser’, which proved very useful to military personnel over open waters during World War II. Mr. Springer, who worked for the Borden Milk Company during the 1940s, was a well-known shark expert from the late 1930s until his death in 1991.
Synthetic Vitamin A
However, by 1950s, the Florida-based shark industry run by Borden Milk Company had to close down. The new production of shark liver oil from the Japanese company, Nipponese, provided the oil at a much lower cost. With the new development by scientists for an inexpensive synthetic vitamin A and D in 1947, the need for shark liver oil became less.
Brief Decline of Sharks Off Florida Coast
During this time of the 1940s, it appeared the local waters off the coast of Salerno, just north of West Palm Beach, were being ‘fished out’, less and less sharks were in the area. The result was an estimated lost of over 100,000 sharks in about 20 years. The hunting of sharks to help control their populations would not pick up again until the 1960s after their populations had a sizable increase. However, for a 20-plus span of years, the fishing for the wide variety of sharks to supply America with vitamin A and other products was a huge and profitable business.