Three quarters of fish in southern NZ contain microplastics – study

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Photo: TBEN

A study by the University of Otago found that three quarters of New Zealand’s wild fish are filled with small plastics.

Packaging, clothing and discarded fishing nets are some of the likely sources of record high microplastics ingested by fish.

Researcher Isabella Clere said: Morning report that for an isolated island nation with a small population – the numbers are horrifying.

Ingesting microplastics was not only bad for the fish, but also for the people who ate them, she said.

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“Nanoplastics and plastic chemicals can travel from the gastrointestinal tract and stomach into muscle tissue, which is what we eat.”

Understanding how these microplastics end up in the seas around New Zealand was complicated, she said.

“New Zealand, like many small island countries, has a very complex oceanographic system, so plastic can move in ocean currents and through winds around the world, so it’s very difficult to know where it’s coming from.”

It was also “very uncertain” whether these microplastics came from land-based plastics, such as clothing, or ocean plastics, such as fishing nets and hooks, Clere said.

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Fish eaten whole — such as sardines and shellfish — had a higher risk of ingesting plastic, she said.

The study found similar levels of microplastics in different fish species living around the upper surface of the ocean. Clere said this suggested microplastics were ubiquitous in this part of the ocean.

Farmed fish, especially those raised in plastic nets, could also ingest microplastics, but this area of ​​study hadn’t received much attention due to industry regulations, she said.

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While the findings of the study were worrisome, Clere said people didn’t need to dump the fish just yet.

“We need to be aware of our plastic use and potential abuse and how that ends up in the natural environment and potentially affects ourselves, but in terms of eating it, that’s really just a personal choice.”

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