Scotland deploys taste testers to sample gas leak fish

Scotland has called in taste testers to sample the fish found near the site of Total's North Sea gas leak, an unusual gastronomic exercise intended to provide reassurance to Scottish seafood lovers.

The government says specially trained "sensory testers" at the Aberdeen, Scotland-based Marine Scotland Science organization sniffed and tasted seven different species of fish collected near Total's leak-stricken Elgin platform earlier this week.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead announced their verdict Wednesday in a statement on the government's website.

"They are untainted by hydrocarbons," he said.

Total's facility was evacuated late last month following the discovery of a gas leak. Since then the rig has been spewing millions of cubic feet (tens of thousands of cubic meters) of natural gas every day, and environmental groups have expressed concern over the leak's impact.

Government spokesman Tom Whittles said the taste testing aimed to provide "early feedback and reassurance."

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

Full chemical testing of fish collected from around the platform is still being carried out. Seawater and sediment samples are also being examined.

A description of the taste tests said the fish were cooked and then presented to specialized assessors, who take "an initial deep inhalation" followed by "one or two shallower sniffs."

They then taste the fish, before spitting it out into a cup.

The description notes that assessors also get water and "savory biscuits" to help them cleanse their palate.