Travels with Penelope

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September 24, 2015 Waiter, there’s some plastic in my fish.

Dear Friends,

Shortly after listening to Francis address Congress this morning I received the following email from my partner. I can only imagine what the Holy Father’s response might be to this news. After reading I felt the need to share it with all of you. You may want to leave those anchovies out the Caesar salad.

University of California, Davis

September 24, 2015



Roughly a quarter of the fish sampled from fish markets in California

and Indonesia contained man-made debris — plastic or fibrous material

— in their guts, according to a study from the University of

California, Davis, and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia.

The study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, is one

of the first to directly link plastic and man-made debris to the fish

on consumers’ dinner plates.

“It’s interesting that there isn’t a big difference in the amount of

debris in the fish from each location, but in the type — plastic or

fiber,” said lead author Chelsea Rochman, a David H. Smith

postdoctoral fellow in the Aquatic Health Program at the UC Davis

School of Veterinary Medicine. “We think the type of debris in the

fish is driven by differences in local waste management.”

‘Waiter, there’s some plastic in my fish’

The researchers sampled 76 fish from markets in Makassar, Indonesia,

and 64 from Half Moon Bay and Princeton in California. All of the

fragments recovered from fish in Indonesia were plastic. In contrast,

80 percent of the debris found in California fish was fibers, whereas

not a single strand of fiber was found in Indonesian fish.

Indonesia has little in the way of landfills, waste collection or

recycling, and large amounts of plastic are tossed onto the beaches

and into the ocean. The problem is made worse by a lack of purified

drinking water that forces its residents to drink bottled water.

“Indonesia has some of the highest marine life richness and

biodiversity on Earth, and its coastal regions — mangroves, coral

reefs and their beaches — are just awash in debris,” said co-author

Susan Williams, a professor with the UC Davis Bodega Marine

Laboratory who has worked on projects in Indonesia for the past

several years. “You have the best and the worst situation right in

front of you in Indonesia.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has highly advanced systems for collecting and

recycling plastics. However, most Californians wash their clothing in

washing machines, the water from which empties into more than 200

wastewater treatment plants offshore California. The authors theorize

that fibers remaining in sewage effluent from washing machines were

ingested by fish sampled in the state.

“To mitigate the issue in each location, it helps to think about

local sources and differences in waste management strategies,”

Rochman said.

It takes guts

The scientists emphasize that the plastic and fibers are found in the

fishes’ guts. That means humans are likely to ingest the debris only

if the fish is eaten whole, as it is in Indonesia, or such as with

sardines and anchovies, rather than filleted. However, researchers

are still studying whether chemicals in plastic can transfer into the


The study was funded by a UC Davis Outreach and International Program

SEED Grant, the National Science Foundation’s Graduate K-12 and IGERT

programs, and the National Institute of Environmental Health

Sciences’ Superfund Research Program.


  1. Theresa Tyagi Kersten

    September 24, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I’ll be gutting my sardines from now on.

  2. Informative article. Thank you for keeping us aware of what’s happening to our food in the world. Keep the good stuff coming girl…

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