University Of Tasmania

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Low abundance of microplastics in commercially caught fish across southern Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 02:02 authored by Wootton, N, Reis-Santos, P, Dowsett, N, Alison TurnbullAlison Turnbull, Gillanders, BM
Plastic pollution has increased significantly in the past decades and is now a major global environmental issue. Plastic objects enter the ocean and are broken down into smaller pieces, while wastewater and runoff also carry microplastics (plastics <5 mm) into the ocean. Plastic has been found in over 700 different species of marine wildlife but little research has examined fish sold for human consumption. We determined the microplastic abundance in nine commercially important, wild-caught fish species purchased from seafood markets across 4000 km of Australia (Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales). For microplastic quantification, fish gastro-intestinal tracts were chemically digested and the amount and type of microplastic identified under a microscope and Fourier transform infrared spectrometer. Across all states, an average of 35.5% of fish samples had at least one piece of microplastic in their gastro-intestinal tract. South Australia had the highest percentage of fish with plastic (49%) and Tasmania the lowest (20%). The average microplastic load was 0.94 piece per fish but ranged from 0 to 17 pieces, with polyolefin identified as the dominant polymer group. Overall, the ingestion of microplastic was widespread across species, locations, diets and habitat niches of fish species investigated, but the average plastic ingestion was less than other similar global studies. This study provides novel insights on the use of fish species from seafood markets to assess environmental contamination by microplastic, as well as an important perspective of the potential for microplastic contamination to enter the human food chain.


South Australian Research and Development Institute


Publication title

Environmental Pollution



Article number









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Elsevier Sci Ltd

Place of publication

The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox5 1Gb

Rights statement

© 2021 Elsevier Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Aquaculture oysters; Wild caught fin fish (excl. tuna)