California – A new study raises concern about food quality and health consequences after finding that a quarter of the fish from fish markets in California and Indonesia contained plastic or fibrous material in their bellies. The research was made by the University of California, Davis, and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia, and was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Although some studies have reported the presence of marine debris in wild-caught fish commonly consumed by humans, studies demonstrating the presence of marine debris in fish directly sold at fish markets for human consumption are limited, if not unavailable”, the study says.

Students help pick up plastic from an Indonesian beach. UC Davis researchers found plastic fragments and textile fibers in 25 percent of fish sold in Indonesian and California markets. Credit: Susan Williams/UC Davis

That is why the researchers had to search it themselves. They sampled and compared 76 fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia, and 64 from Half Moon Bay and Princeton in California, according to an UC Davis press release. They noticed at first a great difference from California and Indonesia samples: the ones in California contained mostly fiber, as the Indonesians contained plastic.

It’s interesting that there isn’t a big difference in the amount of debris in the fish from each location, but in the type” said lead author Chelsea Rochman, a David H. Smith postdoctoral fellow in the Aquatic Health Program at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Researchers say that chances of eating the man-made debris from the fish are unlikely, because it means that you have to eat the whole fish, but this doesn’t mean that the presence of plastic and fiber can not bring consequences to health due to chemical contamination, according to the study. However, scientists agree the study is “the first step in understanding potential impacts of anthropogenic marine debris on human health”.

Waste management does the difference

The U.S. takes waste management and recycling plastic seriously, as it is shown on their advanced technology to collect them. Nevertheless, the study says that “most Californians wash their clothing in washing machines, the water from which empties into more than 200 wastewater treatment plants offshore California.” It is the researcher’s belief that fiber remaining from this process ended in the fish’s guts.

On the other hand, Indonesia has done very little about their waste recycling, and most of their trash end up in the ocean, making people drink bottled water. Chelsea Rochman also said that “we think the type of debris in the fish is driven by differences in local waste management.”

“Indonesia has some of the highest marine life richness and biodiversity on Earth, and its coastal regions — mangroves, coral reefs and their beaches — are just awash in debris,” said co-author Susan Williams, a professor with the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory who has worked on projects in Indonesia for the past several years, according to the press release. “You have the best and the worst situation right in front of you in Indonesia.”

Having concerned doctors and conservationists, Rochman states that “to mitigate the issue in each location, it helps to think about local sources and differences in waste management strategies.”

Source: UC Davis