Taste testers enlisted to sample fish exposed to Scottish gas leak

Scotland's government has brought in a team of taste testers to ensure the safety of fish potentially affected by an ongoing gas leak emanating from a North Sea oil platform owned by French multinational oil and gas company Total S.A.

The government brought to the Marine Scotland Science organization "specially trained sensory testers" who tasted seven species of fish found near the gas leak.

In a statement on the government's website, Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said the results showed the fish "are untainted by hydrocarbons."

According to the government site, the specially trained testers can "detect the taint of hydrocarbon contamination in fish."

The Daily Record reports that the salmon trade has become one of Scotland's most booming industries. The first salmon farm opened just 40 years ago in 1971. There are 250 such farms in place, producing an estimated total of 150,000 tons of the fish annually.

"The environmental impact of this gas leak has been minimal so far, however it's important we take precautions and analyze all available data," Lochhead said in the statement. "Therefore it's reassuring that sensory testing of the fish samples gathered by the Alba na Mara have found they are untainted by hydrocarbons."

Total's facility was evacuated in March after a gas leak was discovered that has subsequently released millions of cubic feet of natural gas every day.

Government spokesman Tom Whittles said the taste testing was done to offer "early feedback and reassurance," to the country's fish eating population.

"(It's an) established procedure which uses the power of the human tongue," he said.

A broader range of chemical testing is still being conducted. The taste testers didn't necessarily make a meal of the sample fish. The fish were cooked and then presented to the tasters, who intake "an initial deep inhalation" followed by "one or two shallower sniffs."

After inhaling the fish aroma, they tasted a sample of the fish, then spit the sample into a cup. In between tastes, the testers were given "savory biscuits" to cleanse their palates.

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