Waiter, there’s some plastic in my fish

For a while now, scientists have known that fish are ingesting small pieces of plastic. But it wasn’t clear how much of that was reaching our dinner plate. Ecologist Chelsea Rochman wanted to find out. 

Rochman, who’s speaking at the @montereybayaquarium Sustainable Foods Institute, sampled fish from markets in California and Indonesia.

“We found plastic and fibers from textiles (e.g., clothing, carpet, fishing nets) in about 1 out of every 4 seafood items sampled,” she told the @huffingtonpost

The study, which Rochman conducted while at UC Davis, was one of the first to directly link plastic in the oceans to the fish on our dinner plates.

So how concerned should we be?

“We know much more about how plastic debris is harmful to fish and much less about how plastic debris in our fish is harmful to our health,” Rochman explains.

Lab studies have demonstrated that plastic can get stuck in the guts of fish and make them feel full. This changes their feeding behavior. Previous research from Rochman demonstrates that small plastic debris can transfer harmful chemicals to fish. This causes stress on the liver and changes the activity of genes related to reproduction. 

“Studies have shown plastic debris in shellfish, fish and even sea salt. So, yes, we need more research to answer questions about how plastic debris may impact food security (i.e. fish stocks) and food safety.”

This is what Rochman plans to study next.

“Seafood is very healthy. It has essential fatty acids. I would never want to scare anybody away from eating seafood,” She said. “We need to see if we need a toxic threshold for plastic in fish.”

What can the rest of us do?

The recent ban on microbeads was a major victory. But microbeads in products like toothpaste and face wash are just one part of the problem. Single-use plastic items — bottles, bags, plates, straws and utensils — are also big contributors to the microplastic problem. The less we use, the better.