Researcher Amund Måge specialises in metals in seafood. As metals in seafood have both a positive and a negative side, he believes it is important to establish their influence on seafood safety.

Name: Amund Måge

Area of research: Metals in seafood, focusing mainly on what might be called the negative metals, such as mercury, arsenic and lead (environmental pollutants), but also interested in the positive metals like zinc, iodine and selenium. Måge is attached to the Surveillance Research Programme at the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research  (NIFES).

Why do you have such a keen interest in this particular field of research?I grew up on the shores of Sørfjorden in Hardanger. The fjord, Sørfjorden, was heavily polluted, and at an early age I became interested in local pollution problems. At NIFES in the 1980s I wrote a Master’s dissertation on cadmium in seafood, and this opened up a whole field of research to me and made me aware that a metal is not just a metal.  How a metal affects the body depends on several things, including its bonding and chemical form. One of the most exciting things in this area of research is that some studies have shown that positive metals and nutrients can actually counteract the negative effects of the negative metals, the so-called interactive effects. The fact that the toxicity of a metal depends partly on its chemical form shows how important it is to develop analysis methods to enable us to distinguish the various forms from each other. This is an area where NIFES is in the forefront of developments. We were among the first to establish methods of distinguishing different chemical forms from each other, a process called speciation. This is especially interesting in relation to the metals mercury, arsenic and tin.  

What is a positive metal and what is a negative metal?Positive metals are also called the essential metals because they are essential for life. Zinc, for example. The negative metals are that that are not essential for life but can be a risk to health, such as cadmium and mercury.  

Why do we find metals in seafood?You find metals in all foodstuffs. Metals are apart of nature. They are only dangerous if they are present in abnormally high concentrations, which is often the case with pollution.   

Is there a special focus on any metals in particular?Mercury is attracting a lot of attention. It is important for Norway to have sound expertise in mercury as it is one of the environmental toxins that, among other things, can lead to restrictions on the consumption of certain species of fish. And of course much of the concern surrounding submarine U864 on the seabed west of Fedje is due to the amount of mercury it contains. Pollution from this source could have consequences for the fish species around the wreck and for the local population.  During a long stay at Harvard School of Public Health in the USA in 2006 I got a particularly good understanding of the way mercury moves through the food chain from sediments to fish.     

What is the most exciting area you are involved in right now?Recently I returned from a meeting in Russia. Norway and Russia are now one step closer to developing common methods for analysing environmental toxins and microbiological bacteria, such as listeria and salmonella, in seafood. This is a very positive and important, as it will make it easier for us to understand the results of our respective analyses of findings bacteria or undesirable substances in fish that are imported, either from Russia to Norway, or the opposite.  

NIFES sits on several of the working groups established under the management plan for the Barents Sea. The Plan is to be reviewed and revised in 2010 and it will be an important factor in the issue of  oil drilling in the Lofoten area. Great expectations are also attached to the management plans for the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea.

 

Do we know enough about environmental pollutants and seafood?No, this is a broad area of research and we still do not know enough about the environmental pollutants we have been working with for many years. At the same time, new pollutants are constantly being discharged into our natural surroundings. Perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS, is one of the new environmental pollutants we are working on. We also see that there has been a reduction in the concentration of many of the old environmental toxins, but at the same time the risk evaluation used to determine the seafood safety has become stricter. Norway carries out comprehensive analysis of the levels of environmental pollutants in fish on a regular basis. The results show that these levels vary with species, their habitat and migration, size and age. Such documentation is important as Norway is a large seafood nation, with a substantial export of seafood to other countries.

Caption: Researcher Amund Måge at NIFES has a good dialogue with IMR research cruise activities and many local fishermen, who help NIFES in the seafood surveillance work.

 

Contact person:Amund Måge, Program for overvåkning E-mail: amund.mage@nifes.no/ Telephone: 950 25 505

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