Study finds microplastics in popular fish snacks from 7 Asian countries

A research team at a Taiwanese university found microplastics in 14 dried fish products from 7 different countries in Asia, according to a study published in the latest issue of The Journal of Hazardous Materials.

The study conducted at the College of Marine Sciences at National Sun Yat-sen University examined small whole dried fish products that are commonly eaten with peanuts as a snack or appetizer and are popular in Asian countries. The products were produced in Japan, China, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand.

The study found that on average, the round-herring (Etrumeus micropus) produced in Japan contained the highest amound to microplastic with up to 2 microplastics per fish, while the Thai anchovy (Stolephorus dubiosis) produced in Thailand contains the least amount of microplastics on average, and one would have to consume around 500 fish before consuming any plastic pollutant. As for the silver stripe round herring popularly consumed in Taiwan, microplastics were detected in 3.2% of the fish, meaning that one would have to consume 31 fish for one piece of microplastic.

Researchers used microscopes to examine specimens and analyzed the types of plastic using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy. It was found that nearly 80% of the microplastics in dried fish were plastic fibers, followed by plastic fragments. The main types were polyethylene.

Researchers pointed out that many studies have reported that microplastics enter the human body via seafood products such as oysters, mussels, and clams, but little research has been done on the content of dried small fish products.

In western countries, fish is mostly consumed as fillets, not whole fish. Westerners therefore do not consume whole fish parts such as the gills, stomachs and internal organs. However, small dried whole fish are a popular snack, appetizer, or ingredient in main dishes in Asia. The small fish are mainly filter-feeding fish that use gill rakers to feed on algae and plankton, therefore are prone to ingesting microplastics.

The conclusion of the study is an important reminder that the consequences of ocean pollution will eventually return to our dinner plates. The impact to human health of consuming microplastics is uncertain, and is an important topic of future research.

Research team of the College of Marine Sciences, National Sun Yat-sen University pose with plates of popular fish snacks
Research team of the College of Marine Sciences, National Sun Yat-sen University
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