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Fish not so healthy? Popular seafood riddled with plastic

Big fan of seafood? You might be getting more than you bargain for the next time you pick up some fish from the market. Turns out that much of the fish may be contaminated with plastic.

fish market
By Jeremy Keith (https://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/256099056/) [CC BY 2.0]

A lot of people love fish and seafood, but a recent study found that fish sampled in both California and Indonesia contained pieces of plastic. This is probably not the stuffing people have in mind when they think about dinner. It’s already well-known that trashing is piling up in oceans, but one consequence that many people might not consider is that this garbage can end up on our dinner tables.

It wasn’t just a few random fish that were contaminated with plastic either. Researchers found that 25 percent of the fish had plastic in their guts. The researchers published their results in the Scientific American.

The discovery was made by researchers at the University of California, Davis. Researchers were alarmed by the high percentage of fish contaminated with plastic. Much of the plastic was from clothing fibers, which represented 80% of the debris found in the fish guts. Researchers believe that waste management practices are among the chief causes behind the high rate of plastic found in the fish.

Is fish a superfood?

Fish is often considered to be a superfood of sorts. Fish, in general, is low in saturated fats, and contains healthy unsaturated fats. Fish contains fewer calories that many cuts of meat, and is also an excellent source of protein. It’s also a good source of vitamin b and vitamin d. The popular seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, which is believed to have numerous health benefits, and have even increased mental performance.

Global consumption of fish reached has reached an all-time high in recent years, with the average person consuming approximately 16 kilograms per year. There are many fears, however, that fish count be contaminated with dangerous toxins, such as mercury. And if fish are eating plastic, they may be absorbing dangerous chemicals from the plastic. If true, this could negate the potential health benefits of eating the seafood.

Get the details on the research

Researchers sampled 64 fish from Princeton and Half Moon Bay, both located in California. For good measure the researchers also tested 76 fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia. This allowed them to gain an international perspective.

Turns out that there was quite a difference in terms of region too. In the United States 80 percent of the plastic found was fibers from clothing and similar materials. In Indonesia none of the debris came from these fibers. Researchers point to differences in local waste management practices.

Researchers randomly bought the fish from fish markets and then dissected their guts at the laboratories at the University of California, Davis.

Since the plastic was found in the guts of the fish the risk to most Americans could be relatively low as most fish is filleted. Those who eat fish whole, such as sardines, will be at the greatest risk of accidentally swallowing plastic. Further, people in countries like Indonesia often eat fish whole.

Some researchers, however, theorize that chemicals from plastic can make can make its way directly into the flesh of the fish themselves. If so, a far larger number of fish could potentially be contaminated with plastic. The researchers will now focus on seeing if the plastics are leaching into the rest of the fish.

The study was headed by Chelsea Rochman and was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Superfund Research Program, as well as the UC Davis Outreach and International Program SEED Grant, and various other organizations.