The launch of Safe Harbor fish, which are guaranteed to have low levels of mercury, by Californian-based wholesaler Pacific Seafoods Group has been made possible thanks to a new scanning system developed by San Francisco’s Micro Analytical Systems (MAS).

The new test assesses mercury levels in fish in about 40 seconds, comparing the mercury level to US Food and Drug Administration data. Whereas before, retailers would have to send fish off to a laboratory for testing, a process that took seven days and cost US$800, now MNS can install a machine in production facilities or distribution outlets an will provide inspectors to perform the test. MAS charges a per-kilo fee for fish that pass the test and become branded Safe Harbor products.

Based on the current guidelines, MAS expects to reject half the fish it tests, Malcolm Wittenberg, the firm’s CEO, told the National Post. “The stuff we reject, which is legal for sale in the United States, will simply be vended to someone who’s not part of the Safe Harbor programme.”