Investigating the role of fishing gear in the generation of microplastic waste and ingestion by Atlantic cod in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Despite the reliance on the food fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) to provide subsistence for local people, little is known about how much microplastic waste, tiny particles of plastic known to be in Newfoundland waters, is being ingested by fish. Marine plastics are known vectors for industrial chemicals to enter the food web via consumption by marine life. However, there are no mitigation practices currently implemented in the province. This study will provide information to make informed local and provincial action feasible. In communities with high fishing activity like Fogo Island, it is hypothesized that microplastics are mainly sourced from fishing gear, yet there are few studies quantifying microplastics that fragment off fishing gear. This study will consist of two objectives: (1) Collect ~200 gastrointestinal (GI) tracts each from an economically important species, Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) at Fogo Island in partnership with local fish harvesters (via the Shorefast Foundation). The GI tracts will be dissected and any thread fragments found will be sourced to specific fishing gear first via their colour and secondly via Ramen spectrometry. (2) Conduct a controlled experiment using the flume tank at the Marine Institute to simulate the mechanical abrasion that plastic fishing gear is subjected to during fish harvesting. This experiment will quantify and describe microplastic threads that fragment off ropes to determine the contribution fishing gear to microplastic pollution in different conditions and contexts. This study will be the first in its field to examine the relationship between plastic contamination in harvested fish, the equipment used in the process, and the relationship between them. Research will provide critical information about the source of marine plastics, which will be useful to the local NL communities to know the conditions under which plastic fishing gear fragments into microplastics and lead to fish ingestion. One of the anticipated outcomes is that this data will provide the impetus to pilot sustainable fishing gear practices such as heritage fishing and more effective pollution mitigation practices and management policies. This project will also provide novel evidence and direction on where public policymakers and communities in NL can focus their efforts to prevent further marine microplastics pollution by focusing on one major source of microplastic waste: fishing gear.