What do you eat when you eat fish?


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


(Bihar Times) According to a recent study in Marine Pollution Bulletin done by scientists from Plymouth University, one third of fish off the coast of England have been found full of plastic bits. This is not just the fish of the North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean. “We have previously shown that on shorelines worldwide, on the sea bed and in the water column around the UK, these tiny fragments of plastic are widespread,” scientist Richard Thompson says in Planet Earth Online. The study shows how these plastic fragments are making their way into organisms.

 504 fish include whiting, horse mackerel, John Dory and red gurnard were collected about 10 kilometres off the coast of Plymouth. 184 of the fish had between one to fifteen pieces of plastic in their gastrointestinal tracts. 351 pieces of plastic were removed from the fish, most of it from plastic bottles, single use bags. styrofoam, plastic gloves, lids, foam packaging, plastic rope, plastic fishing line, plastic bleach bottle, plastic egg cartons, lighters, plastic lids, straws, exfoliators, face scrubs, cosmetic and sanitary items. This is apart from the cigarette butts. Some dead ones had metal caps and glass pieces in them. All these fish would have ended up on a fisheater’s dining table. 

In 2011, U.K. supermarkets handed out a total of 8 billion “thin-gauge” bags, a 5.4 % increase from the 7.6 billion handed out in 2010. Every U.K. shopper now uses about eleven plastic bags a month and most of them end up inside fish. Plastic microbeads used by cosmetic companies are easily eaten by fish and get passed up and down the food chain.

 31 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 2010 in the USA – 92% was thrown into the ocean. In 2011 scientists found plastic in 10% of the lantern fish collected from the Pacific Ocean. These fish are commonly eaten by larger fish which are eaten by humans. A study by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego estimated that fish in the middle depths of the northern Pacific Ocean are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic each year. The plastic in the fish may sometimes be large but is mostly broken down into small fragments that go unseen by the human eater. “10% is on the low side. We can't tell how many fish ate plastic and died and how many fish ate plastic and regurgitated it or passed it out of their intestines," said Rebecca Asch, one of the study's authors. A study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation found plastic in the stomachs of 35% of fish in the same general area of the Pacific.

 Cheap, durable and lightweight, plastic is used in countless industries. But little of it is recycled and much ends up in the environment, the rivers and seas, where it fragments without degrading and ends up doing a great deal of harm. Some of it, eaten by fish, goes right back into your body.

 In India, Delhi alone produces 250,000 plastic waste annually - plastic bags, sheets, films – which is all thrown into the water. Plastic never degrades in a marine environment. It chokes wetlands and wildlife.

 So much is the plastic that there is a Great Pacific Garbage Patch, made mainly of plastic, stretching for hundreds of kilometres across the North Pacific Ocean, an island bigger than U.P. and Madhya Pradesh combined, forming a nebulous, floating junk yard on the high seas. An alien looking out of an UFO could mistake it for a country.

 Unlike most other trash, plastic cannot biodegrade as no microbes that break down other substances recognize plastic as food. So it stays forever. Eventually sunlight breaks down the bonds between the polymers reducing it to smaller and smaller pieces, but that makes matters worse because then it is eaten by tiny marine organisms, entering the food chain.

Sea turtles are especially susceptible. In addition to being entangled by fishing nets, they often swallow plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, their main prey. Turtles that are caught and eaten, often have a great deal of plastic in their stomachs which has clogged their intestines starving them to death. Plastic resin pellets, which are tiny, industrial-use granules shipped in bulk around the world, are often washed into the sea and are eaten by sea birds who regurgitate them and feed their children. Decaying albatross chicks are frequently found with stomachs full of plastic debris. These small plastic particles have been found in the stomachs of 63 of the world's approximately 250 species of seabirds.


The plastic in the fish is toxic to the fish eater in many ways. It will have poisoned the fish because of its inherent toxicity as it contains colourants and chemicals like bisphenol-A, organic pollutants like PCBs and other toxins. The fish eater swallows all of these cancer causing and organ blocking elements.

 So the plastics floating down your sewers, flushed down your toilets, thrown out as medical waste, tampons, diapers, condoms, thrown out of boats that empty their trash directly into the ocean (In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 14 billion pounds of garbage was being dumped into the ocean every year. That's more than 1.5 million pounds per hour. A 1985 report estimated that merchant ships dump 450,000 plastic containers each day into international waters. The oceans received tons of plastic products dumped daily by commercial fishermen, military vessels, merchant ships, passenger liners, pleasure boats, offshore oil and gas drilling operations, the plastics industry and sewage treatment plants). These are eaten by small fish who are eaten by larger fish who are eaten by you.

 Humans love freebies. And you get lots of plastic free when you eat fish. Small fish mistake plastic particles for plankton, their normal food. There are many estimates about the ratio of plastic particles to plankton. They range from 6:1 to a catastrophic 46:1. The point is, there is MUCH more plastic than plankton. Soon the fish body is eating more plastic than food.
So the fish is caught and wrapped in plastic and sold to you. Plastic inside, plastic outside. Why not just cut out the “middle man” and eat your plastic bag for lunch?

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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