Conservation charities have hit out at scenes which saw a shark paraded through a UK city before being butchered, cooked and eaten by the crowd.
The scenes were shared on Visit Plymouth's official Instagram account as it had handed over control of its social media page for Plymouth Seafood Festival.
The incident happened close to the National Marine Aquarium and the conservation charity The Shark Trust on Plymouth's historic Barbican.
The blue shark is listed as near-threatened globally and, although there are no limits on catches in UK waters, there have been calls to better protect them, reports PlymouthLive .
The organisers of Plymouth Seafood Festival said they were "surprised and disappointed" by the incident, adding they will put measures in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.
The Ocean Conservation Trust, which runs Plymouth's National Marine Aquarium, famed for its work protecting under-threat sharks, has led the criticism of the scenes witnessed at the weekend.
"As an Ocean conservation charity, we do not condone the eating blue shark and were disappointed to see that a blue shark was shown off at the 'catch of the day' session, as well as being featured on the chef's stage," said Helen Gowans, the charity's public and community engagement manager.
The image of the incident, which shows two men raising the blue shark in the air before a crowd of people - taken not far from The Shark Trust's stall - has created fury online. Shortly after the picture was taken the shark was cooked and offered to the crowd to eat.
Plymouth City Council said it had given Barbican restaurant The Boathouse control of its Visit Plymouth Instagram account for the event as part of a 'takeover'. The council will now be reviewing its social media handling, it said.
The image was posted with the caption: "We have a blue shark here today. Ben will be cooking it later on this evening."
Plymouth Live has attempted to contact The Boathouse and its owner Ben Squire, but neither have responded. Mr Squire's other business, Plymouth Boat Trips, was also tagged in the controversial Instagram post.
It is understood the shark was caught as bycatch, which is when unwanted fish and other marine creatures are trapped by commercial fishing nets during fishing for a different species.
One man who appeared to have been at the event claimed the shark was in fact already dead when caught in a net.
"It is against the law and procedure to return a dead animal back into the ocean once landed," he wrote on social media. "It was authorised by the correct officials to ensure that it was allowed to be consumed.
"Therefore instead of throwing a fine animal away back into the ocean and consequently breaking the law, it was deemed appropriate for it to be utilised in another manner."
But members of the public have reacted with outrage on Facebook, where screenshotted images of the original Instagram post have been widely shared.
One furious Plymouth woman said: "In a time and city where we are encouraged to help with the protection and conservation of sharks many people think this is just terrible, especially with shark numbers dwindling."
A second person wrote: "Totally out of order, killed and paraded. I thought these days were over."
Another added: "We operate a catch and release policy, I won’t even remove one from the water. That photo is a disgrace, no need ever to kill them it’s time that sharks were given the protection from senseless slaughter that they deserve."
The incident was a blot on what was otherwise a hugely successful weekend that showcased the variety of fresh fish available in Plymouth.
Sarah Gibson, chief executive of the Plymouth Waterfront Partnership, which organises the seafood festival, said: "We were surprised and very disappointed that this year's event saw the inclusion of a shark which we understand was caught as by-catch at the 'catch of the day' session and was featured on the chef's stage by a contributing organisation.
"We would not have allowed this to proceed if we had known in advance and we have already put measures in place to ensure this will not be allowed to happen again at any of our future events.
"We will continue our work with our partners, including the Ocean Conservation Trust, Environment Plymouth and Seafish to educate about the importance of sustainability and the preservation of the natural blue and green environments including the wildlife around our coast."
She added: "The Plymouth Seafood Festival is one of the highlight events of the city's calendar, which has run for eight successive years to celebrate the diversity of the fishing industry and is funded by Plymouth Waterfront Partnership business members.
"As Britain's Ocean City we are proud of our marine heritage and champion the conservation of our waters, the animals that live within them are extremely important to us."
Ms Gowans said the Ocean Conservation Trust was troubled by the scenes.
"As an Ocean conservation charity, we do not condone the eating of blue shark and were disappointed to see that a blue shark was shown off at the 'catch of the day' session, as well as being featured on the chef's stage," she said. "We feel that showing the public how to cook this species and then offering them the chance to eat it at such a widely attended event could be damaging, encouraging intrigue and thus demand for Blue Shark on people’s plates moving forward."
A spokesman said: "The blue shark at last weekend’s festival was part of a display by the Plymouth Trawler Agents, which illustrated the diversity of species caught in regional fisheries.
"Sharks are an inevitable part of bycatch, and at this time blue shark can be legally retained, sold and consumed. While the presence of the shark sparked a few conversations on the Shark Trust stand, we received no immediate comments regarding the shark auction.
"However, having seen the photographs related to the auction, and how the shark was handled, we can appreciate that this caused distress to some festival goers, and was not the most appropriate approach. The video has since been removed from Instagram, so we are unable to comment any further.
"Management is currently lacking for Blue Sharks - and while the UK fleet catches relatively few Blues, this shark is caught in the Atlantic with no limits and in mind-boggling volumes: 68,000t in 2017 alone."
Council to review social media use after shark photo controversy
Plymouth City Council has explained how the image of the blue shark ended up on the city's official tourism board Instagram page in a post that also promoted two local businesses.
A spokesperson said they did not condone what had happened.
They said: "Unfortunately during this year’s Seafood Festival a shark was inadvertently caught as a by-catch by a local fisherman on one of their regular commercial fishing activities and was then brought to the ‘catch of the day’ session on the main stage of the Seafood Festival.
"We and our partners are committed to protecting our marine environment and sustainable fishing, especially around endangered species such as sharks, and we do not condone what happened and we want to make sure this does not happen again in future events.
"It is also unfortunate that a picture of the by-catch of the shark was then posted onto the Visit Plymouth Instagram social media account by The Boathouse, who had temporarily been given access to post images from the Seafood Festival as part of an Instagram ‘takeover’.
"This was the first time such a ‘takeover’ with an event partner had been organised and it was aimed at making the social media content more interactive and spontaneous.
"The post was taken down very soon after it was posted after it understandably caused some distress and we have also spoken to The Boathouse about the incident. We will review our social media around events and make sure this does not happen again."
They added: "The Seafood Festival is one of the city’s flagship annual events, organised by Plymouth Waterfront Partnership, and is extremely important for the local economy."
"The festival showcases the quality fresh fish available in the city. Plymouth is home to the second largest fish market in the UK and was the first city to be awarded Fish2Fork Blue Fish status for its commitment to sourcing sustainable fish, so has a lot to celebrate."
Despite the incident, the Ocean Conservation Trust and the Shark Trust both praised the Seafood Festival for the work it usually does in showcasing the fish available in the waters of Plymouth.
Ms Gowans added: "The Plymouth Seafood Festival is a fantastic event that showcases the variety of quality, fresh fish available here in Britain’s Ocean City.
"The presence of the blue shark at the event did serve as an important lesson in the issue of bycatch, demonstrating the types of species that can potentially get unintentionally caught up in fishing nets.
"It also highlights the need for more vital conversations to be had around the issue of sustainability – not just in terms of how more sustainable fishing methods can be implemented, but also the importance of helping the people of Plymouth to make better, more sustainable choices when deciding on their next fish or seafood meal."