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Scientists Find Low Levels of Heavy Metals in Saithe

24 February 2014

NORWAY - Fillets of saithe from the North Sea and the Skagerrak contain low levels of heavy metals, which means that they are safe to eat.

This is among the results of a study of 664 saithe from the North Sea and the Skagerrak carried out by NIFES on behalf of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. Levels of cadmium, mercury and lead were all below the European Union’s maximum levels. The study adds to previous analyses of saithe from the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea.

Safe fillet

“These results demonstrate that the levels of all the heavy metals we measured in fillets were generally low, and that fillets of saithe are therefore safe to eat,” says NIFES research scientist Bente Nilsen.

“The level of mercury in filleted saithe was around 0.06 mg per kilo, which is about one tenth of the permitted limit. The level was also lower than in cod from the same area.”

In saithe, as in other lean fish, organic environmental toxins are mostly stored in the liver rather than in muscle meat.

"At five of the 29 stations, from where fish were sampled, the mean values in the liver exceeded the permitted limit, and four of these stations lay close to the coast. It has already been shown for cod that the combined levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in the liver of fish caught in fjords and close to the coast is high, and a dietary advisory has been issued that recommends against consuming the liver of self-caught fish from coastal areas. If we look at individual fish from this study, irrespective of where they were taken, 26 per cent had a combined level of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in the liver that exceeded the upper limit of 20 nanograms TEQ/kg.

“The level in saithe liver was lower than those that have been found in cod liver from the same area,” said Mr Nilsen.

Lower levels in the Barents Sea than in the North Sea

Combined with its studies of saithe in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea in 2011 (link), NIFES has now analysed a total of 1620 fish. Fillets of saithe from the North Sea and the Barents Sea have low levels of heavy metals and are therefore safe to eat.

The earlier results from fillets of saithe from the Barents Sea showed that these levels were even lower than in fish from the North Sea. The level of organic environmental toxins in the liver of saithe from the North Sea is similar to those taken in the Norwegian Sea, but higher than in the liver of saithe from the Barents Sea.

Further Reading

You can view the full report (in Norwegian) by clicking here.

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