Plastic 'being regularly ingested' by fish consumed in New Zealand

Auckland University researchers have looked at plastics eaten by fish around the South Pacific.

Auckland University researchers have looked at plastics eaten by fish around the South Pacific.

They are fish you can regularly buy from your local market, and new research suggests the majority surveyed have eaten plastic.

Ongoing research from the Auckland University Institute of Marine Science has shown of eight species common in New Zealand, only one did not eat plastic.

The rest were shown to eat plastic on a regular basis, possibly putting Kiwis' health, and one of the country's biggest industries, at risk.

Eight of New Zealand's most common commercial fish have been found to be eating plastic regularly.

Eight of New Zealand's most common commercial fish have been found to be eating plastic regularly.

The research, conducted by PhD student Ana Markic, was the first to explore plastic's impact on Kiwi fisheries, with neither the fishing industry or the Ministry for Primary Industries having investigated in the past.

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Markic said the full findings of the research would be available in March , but without peer review was not comfortable speaking more specifically. The research also looked at fish caught around Samoa, Easter Island, and Tahiti.

"All the fish I study are commercial and people eat them. I have 34 species from all four locations, of which eight [were] common species from NZ.," she said.

Sustainable Coastlines co-founder Sam Judd said research into the effect of plastic on Kiwi fisheries, and the health risks they posed to human health, had been neglected.

"Sometimes people need the proof to change stuff," he said.


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Government steps to make anti-litter projects eligible for funding from the Waste Minimisation Fund was a positive step, Judd said, and had enabled Sustainable Coastlines to begin a three-year study into how litter entered New Zealand's waters.

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Alongside Auckland University, Judd was also pitching for funds to start testing the flesh of fish for chemicals that may have leached from plastics.

He said some plastics contained carcinogens, chemicals which cause cancer, and endocrine disruptors, which may mimic the oestrogen hormone.

"If people knew that littering was poisoning humans, they would be much less likely to do it," he said.

"Our aim is to categorically prove this, so that anti-littering becomes a cultural norm, like wearing a seatbelt in a car."

"This is no longer a discussion about the environment, this is about human health."

Judd is also a fisherman, and said he wanted to feel safe feeding his catch to his daughter.

The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council estimates over 1 million Kiwis go fishing every year.

A spokesman for the Ministry for Primary Industries said they would be carefully examining the results of the new Auckland University study, as they would with all research about potential emerging risks to New Zealand's food supply..

"There is a lack of knowledge internationally on what any findings of plastics in seafood mean to human health, a conclusion also reached by the European Food Safety Authority last year," he said.

"At present there are no plans to add plastics research into our monitoring programme. Science is constantly evolving, and if any compelling evidence emerges to suggest we should change our approach, we will consider it."

A recent study published in the Nature Scientific Reports journal suggested microplastics, fragments smaller than one millimetre, were able to move from the digestive system to the flesh of four commonly consumed fish species.

Doctoral candidate Abolfazl Golieskardi, of Universiti Putra Malaysia, one of Malaysia's leading research Universities, said the findings highlighted the ability of microplastics to translocate from the digestive system of the fish into tissues directly consumed by humans.

"This raises serious concerns about the safety of seafood products and their impacts on human health," he said.

Seafood New Zealand chief executive Tim Pankhurst said the industry was aware of the concerning increase of plastic finding its way into the ocean, but was not aware of any research in the field by industry.

The Government has been facing mounting pressure to take action on single-use plastic waste, with 96 per cent of the country's city and district mayors signing an open letter calling for a 20c levy on plastic bags.

 - Stuff


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