We assessed the potential role played by two vital Northeastern Pacific Ocean forage fishes, the Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes personatus) and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), as conduits for the vertical transfer of microfibres in food webs. We quantified the number of microfibres found in the stomachs of 734 sand lance and 205 herring that had been captured by an abundant seabird, the rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata). Sampling took place on six widely-dispersed breeding colonies in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington State, USA, over one to eight years. The North Pacific Ocean is a global hotspot for pollution, yet few sand lance (1.5%) or herring (2.0%) had ingested microfibres. In addition, there was no systematic relationship between the prevalence of microplastics in the fish stomachs vs. in waters around three of our study colonies (measured in an earlier study). Sampling at a single site (Protection Island, WA) in a single year (2016) yielded most (sand lance) or all (herring) of the microfibres recovered over the 30 colony-years of sampling involved in this study, yet no microfibres had been recovered there, in either species, in the previous year. We thus found no evidence that sand lance and herring currently act as major food-web conduits for microfibres along British Columbia’s outer coast, nor that the local at-sea density of plastic necessarily determines how much plastic enters marine food webs via zooplanktivores. Extensive urban development around the Salish Sea probably explains the elevated microfibre loads in fishes collected on Protection Island, but we cannot account for the between-year variation. Nonetheless, the existence of such marked interannual variation indicates the importance of measuring year-to-year variation in microfibre pollution both at sea and in marine biota.
J. M. Hipfner, M. Galbraith, S. Tucker and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 239, August 2018, Pages 215-222