In an article published on August 16, 2017 by news provider Popular Science, journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis reports on a new scientific study finding that fish mistake marine plastic debris for food because it smells similar to their actual food. The study was published on the same day in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and conducted by Matthew S. Savoca and colleagues from the University of California, Davis, and the Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco, both U.S.. The researchers exposed schools of wild-caught northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) to odor solutions made of marine plastic debris, clean plastic, and food, as well as to actual food (zooplankton) and no odor (control). Savoca and colleagues observed that the anchovy schools reacted to marine plastic debris odor, food odor, and food with increased aggregation and reduced rheotaxis. These behavioral responses were not observed in the clean plastic and control treatments. “This is the first experimental evidence that adult anchovy use odors to forage,” according to the authors. They conclude that the smell acquired by plastic debris in the marine environment “can induce foraging behaviors in anchovy schools.”

Read more

Kendra Pierre-Louis (August 16, 2017). “Why fish can’t help but eat our plastic garbage.Popular Science

Fiona Harvey (August 16, 2017). “Fish mistaking plastic debris in ocean for food, study finds.The Guardian

Lorraine Chow (August 16, 2017). “Another reason to ditch plastic—It smells like food to fish.EcoWatch


Savoca, M.S. et al. (2017). “Odors from marine plastic debris induce food search behaviors in a forage fish.Proceedings of the Royal Society B (published online August 16, 2017).