Microplastic Ingestion by the Black Sea Bass, Centropristis striata: An Assessment of Potential Impacts on the Health of an Atlantic Commercial Fish Species

A fish resting in a researcher’s gloved hands.
A black sea bass (Centropristis striata) is prepped for feeding experiments. (Photo Credit: UNCW)

Researchers from UNCW are investigating if black sea bass consume contaminated microplastics in the wild, and if microplastics and associated contaminants are transferred from prey to larval and juvenile black sea bass.

Type of Project: Research

Region: Southeast

Project Dates: August 2017 – July 2019

Who is involved?
Researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (Dept of Biology & Marine Biology and Dept of Chemistry & Biochemistry), North Carolina State University and Oregon State University, with support from a NOAA Marine Debris Program Research grant, are investigating the effects of microplastic ingestion by a commercial fisheries species, the black sea bass (Centropristis striata), via direct ingestion of microplastics and through prey-predator trophic transfer studies. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries is assisting with the collection of field samples, and Plastic Ocean Project is facilitating outreach activities pertaining to this research.

What is the project and why is it important?
Microplastics, or plastic pieces less than 5mm in size, are a widespread problem in the ocean. They can transport aquatic pollutants such as plasticizers and flame retardants that are added during production. Unfortunately, microplastics can be ingested by a range of animals, which may mistake them for food or ingest them along with prey. The prevalence of microplastic transfer from prey to predator through marine food webs is unknown. Nevertheless, plastics are found in many types of seafood, suggesting a potential risk of human exposure to microplastic-associated chemicals. However, the risk to seafood supplies from POP (persistent organic pollutant)-contaminated microplastics is present only if: a) contaminated microplastics are ingested, b) typically-used POPs can leach into gut fluid and tissues, and c) plastics and POPs can be transferred from prey to predator. In this study, researchers are investigating all three aspects in the black sea bass (Centropristis striata), an Atlantic fishery species.

This study entails both fieldwork and laboratory experiments. Wild-caught black sea bass are being examined for evidence of microplastic ingestion and overall health. In the laboratory, researchers are conducting controlled experiments with both larval and juvenile cultured black sea bass to see if microplastics can be transferred from prey to predator. Targeted experiments are also tracking the movement of plastic pellets through the digestive tract of juvenile black sea bass to determine their residence time and the leaching rates of plastic additives to the fish tissue. This interdisciplinary project is working to greatly enhance our understanding of the effects of marine plastic debris on black sea bass and other bottom-dwelling fish species, as well as increase our knowledge of the potential for the transfer of microplastics and associated contaminants from prey to predator within coastal food webs.