Tracking DNA to stop illegal fishing

Despite international policy regulations and ‘eco-labelling’, illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing is still thriving worldwide. To tackle this problem a group of international researchers came up with a possible tool based on genetic testing. The results of their research were recently published in Nature Communications.

DNA-based tools are ideal for identifying the origin of fish and fish products, since DNA is found in all cells and can be extracted even from fried fish. The researchers used gene-associated markers which can recognise variances between genes that evolved through adaptation to different local conditions. They first had to identify population specific markers and then test how accurately they could assign animals to those populations based on these DNA markers. They found a respectable 93-100% accuracy in assigning individuals to their origin.

The new method was tested on four fish species: Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), sole (Solea solea) and European hake (Merluccius merluccius). Populations of these species are exposed to overexploitation and illegal fishing. The authors highlighted that the proposed method can “revolutionize origin assignment and become a highly valuable tool for fighting illegal fishing and mislabelling worldwide”.

Nielsen, E.E. et al. 2012. Gene-associated markers provide tools for tackling illegal fishing and false eco-certification. Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/ncomms1845.

The original Open Access paper can be downloaded here.