Sunday, 3 July 2011

Government kept high mercury content in fish report quiet for seven years

Shark for sale at pescadería
SPAIN (Agencies) What is not surprising is the fact that shark, as well as swordfish and the shortfin mako shark, contain high levels of mercury. What is alarming, however, is that the government kept quiet for seven years about a study carried out by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) which concluded there were mercury-concentration levels higher than permitted by law in these popular seafood dishes fished in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. After a three-year legal battle before the High Court, the environmental group Oceana won access to the report. In its refusal to make it public, the Environment Ministry argued that the study was an internal working document. On December 5, 2003, the IEO concluded a major study concerning the levels of arsenic and heavy metals in fish and shellfish sold to consumers.>>>
The three-volume report analyzes contamination in 90 species. IEO scientists took hundreds of samples from the high seas and in fisheries of every species consumed in Spain. The 321-page reports deals with all types of contamination in all possible species, from pink salmon to mussels and squid.

The conclusions were astonishing: 62.5 percent of the 128 samples of shortfin mako shark had mercury levels much higher than permitted by law while 54.2 percent of swordfish also exceeded the limit. Metal levels in bluefin tuna, however, were much lower: only four samples passed the legal limit for mercury.

In 2006, Oceana became aware of the report and demanded a copy. "They didn't want to give it out because they didn't want to cause alarm. Heavy-metal pollution in large pelagic species is a serious issue, but they feared the impact it could have on the fishing industry if were to be made public," explains Xavier Pastor, director of the Oceana.

An Environment Ministry spokesman on Thursday explained that over the years officials felt that it was "an internal opinion to be forwarded to the European Commission," which would decide what to do with it.
The 2006 Law on Access to Environmental Information requires that all such documents are made public as outlined by the Aarhus International Convention. The High Court ruled in favor of Oceana in December 2009. But when the government still delayed its release, Oceana filed another complaint and finally received a copy in March.

No comments: