Pollutants in capelin (Mallotus villosus)

Capelin on white background.
Photo: Institute of Marine Research

Capelin have relatively low levels of environmental contaminants. Thus far, there does not appear to have been any change over time. The exception is PBDEs, which appear to have declined.

What is being monitored?

POPs in capelin

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The levels of HCB, dieldrin and chlordane in 2013-2018 were generally lower than the maximum levels applying to animal feedin EC and Norway. Partly because of changed analytical methods, it is not possible to assess whether there has been any real change in the level of pesticides in capelin over time.

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The level of brominated flame retardant (PBDE) were low in 2018, as in previous years. The level of PBDE appears to have gone down since 2010.

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The cadmium level has been relatively stable since 2007, with concentrations well below the maximum level for animal feed (2 mg/kg feed product with 12 per cent water). In 2017 the average concentration of cadmium was the lowest measured during the entire period.

Status and trend

The cadmium level has been relatively stable since 2007, with concentrations well below the maximum level for animal feed (2 mg/kg feed product with 12 per cent water). In 2017 the average concentration of cadmium was the lowest that has been measured since monitoring started in 2007. All samples of capelin had low levels of both mercury and lead. Mercury levels were below the EQS of 0.02 mg/kg wet weight.

The levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, sum PCB6 and brominated flame retardant (PBDE) were low in 2018, as in previous years. The level of PBDE appears to have decreased since 2010, even though being above the EQS. The PCB7 level was below the EQS for the first time in 2017-2018, and future monitoring will show whether this is a decreasing trend.

The levels of HCB, dieldrin, toxaphene, chlordane and α-HCH in 2015-2018 were lower than the maximum levels for animal feed. However these limits only apply to capelin used as a raw material for fish feed, without being first processed into fish meal and fish oil. Partly because of changed analysis methods, it is not possible to determine whether there has been any real change in the level of pesticides in capelin over time.

Causal factors

Capelin may have consumed contaminants which have originated locally or been transported to the Barents Sea via atmospheric and ocean currents. Some environmental contaminants may occur naturally rather than being caused by pollution. This applies for example to cadmium.

The levels of contaminants in capelin are affected by the levels in what the capelin eat, which are medium sized zooplankton. Capelin are thus at a relatively low level in the food chain. Together with a short lifespan, this contributes to the level of contaminants in general being relatively low in capelin.

Levels of PBDEs appear to have been declining since 2010 through to 2018. One possible explanation might be the ban implemented within the EU since 2004, and consequently reduced use of these compounds.

Consequences

Capelin contain relatively low levels of environmental contaminants, and no compounds have been shown to have levels exceeding the maximum levels for the safety of food and feed. The levels of contaminants in capelin is generally not a concern whether being used for human consumption or in fish feed. Nevertheless, these compounds will be transferred to organisms feeding on capelin, e.g., cod, marine mammals and seabirds, as well as species even higher in the food web. Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) have been set to protect the more vulnerable parts of the ecosystems. Of all the compounds that have been measured, only PBDEs currently show levels above the EQS, levels which have been set particularly low for PBDEs.

EU legislation:

  • EC (2002). Directive 2002/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on undesirable substances in animal feed. Official Journal of the European Union.
  • EC (2006). Commission regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs. Official Journal of the European Union 364: 5–24.
  • EC (2008). Directive 2008/105/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directives 82/176/EEC, 83/513/EEC, 84/156/EEC, 84/491/EEC, 86/280/EEC and amending Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council. EU. Official Journal of the European Union 348: 1–27

Norwegian legislation:

About the monitoring

The indicator describes the levels of environmental contaminants in capelin and how these levels change with time.

Environmental contaminants in capelin have been monitored by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (before 2018: National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, NIFES), since 2007. Sampling is mainly carried out at the IMR winter cruise in January/February. Normally samples are collected at three different locations, and often in different areas each year.

Places and areas

Data are collected to give a representative presentation of the situation for capelin in the Barents Sea, hence samples are taken at different positions every time. Each year, samples of capelin are taken at three  locations  in the Barents Sea.

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme
International environmental agreements
Voluntary international cooperation
Related monitoring