Institute of Fisheries Ecology

Herwigstraße 31
27572 Bremerhaven
Phone: + 49 471 94460 201
Fax: + 49 471 94460 199

PlasM - Microplastic in Fish


 (c) Marc-Oliver Aust

Plastic litter and marine fish

The huge amount of man-made solid waste materials ending up in the oceans becoming marine litter was identified as one of the pressing global challenges. We investigate the amount of microplastics in marine fish and if this is a threat for the animal.

Background and Objective

Marine litter comprises a wide range of materials such as glass, metal, wood, rubber and plastics. Plastic waste was already identified as special problem, because it persists in the environment. In European regions about 70-80% of marine litter is plastic. It was estimated that about 4.8 million tons plastic litter enters the oceans each year and accumulates due to low degradation rates.

Studies on marine litter are often based on an international agreed protocol ( e.g. ICES International Bottom Trawl Survey IBTS), for standardized recording of marine macro litter (> 2.5cm). Besides macro litter the small plastic particles - microplastic (< 5mm) - are of special interest. Microplastic is regarded as alarming from an ecologically point of view because it can be be taken up by marine organisms, might bioaccumulate in the food chain, or may cause harm to the animal or enhanced its contamination level.

The aim of PlasM is an improved risc assessment of plastic in the marine environment - especially for fish and the consumer.


  • Sampling of marine fish
  • Sampling of marine litter
  • Extraction of micro plastic from fish
  • Determination of Polymers using FTIR
  • Determination of fish health status

Our Research Questions

Preliminary Results

  • The seafloor of the North and Baltic Sea is mainly polluted with plastic litter.
  • Dab and herring are orally taking microplastic up in different concentrations.
  • Microplastic fibers in the water do not affect fertilization and early development of fish.
  • Ingested microplastic fibers had no effect on growth and the immune system of sticklebacks.

According to current scientific knowledge, the small amounts of microplastics that are taken up by fish in the wild do not affect fish health and fitness, as well as consumers. We expect even at higher future microplastic concentrations in the sea no significant negative effects on fish. In contrast, macroplastic in the sea is a big problem and should be included in regular surveys of the North and Baltic Sea.


Involved Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Food und Agriculture (BMEL)
    (national, öffentlich)


7.2017 - 12.2021

More Information

Projekt type:
Project funding number: 2819108816
Funding program: Innovationsförderung
Project status: ongoing


hits: 4

  1. Bunge A, Kammann U, Scharsack JP (2021) Exposure to microplastic fibers does not change fish early life stage development of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Micropl Nanopl 1:15, DOI:10.1186/s43591-021-00015-x
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 512 kb
  2. Rebelein A, Focken U (2021) Microplastic fiber diet - Fiber-supplemented pellets for small fish. MethodsX 8:101204, DOI:10.1016/j.mex.2020.101204
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 929 kb
  3. Rebelein A, Int-Veen I, Kammann U, Scharsack JP (2021) Microplastic fibers - Underestimated threat to aquatic organisms? Sci Total Environ 777:146045, DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146045
  4. Int-Veen I, Nogueira P, Isigkeit J, Hanel R, Kammann U (2021) Positively buoyant but sinking: Polymer identification and composition of marine litter at the seafloor of the North Sea and Baltic Sea. Mar Pollut Bull:in Press