Illegal fish trade challenged by new technology

A GENETIC test developed at LJMU could have a “dramatic effect” on how the UK polices illegal fishing.

Scientists say mislabelling not only deceives consumers but also allows illegally caught fish — including endangered species — to be “laundered” through the supply chain.

However, a new genetic technique which identifies the species from filleted fish in a matter of hours could help outlaw fish fraud and protect stocks.

Researchers Stefano Mariani and Marine Cusa, of the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, road-tested the technique with officials from the Marine Management Organisation, part of DEFRA.

'Dramatic impact'

Writing on his government blog, MMO’s senior evidence specialist Chris Graham said: (the machine) “could have a dramatic impact on the way the organisation carries out its statutory functions to ensure sustainable fish stocks.”

Four mystery fish fillets were tested, using a molecular-level process optimised as part of the EU SEATRACE project*, which generates a signature unique to each species.

“We have shown it is possible to identify species, in just a few hours, without the need to outsource DNA for sequencing in a laboratory, which can take weeks,” explained Stefano.

“We just need to complete the species database now to make it a comprehensive tool for this type of testing.”

Widen database

Added Dr Graham: “We are supporting efforts to increase the database of species to include more UK commercially landed species such as sharks and skates/rays.

“In addition we are generating standard operating procedures to help the MMO carry out these tests in the future.”

He concluded that the technology had great potential in validating existing MMO compliance work and will help ensure healthy and sustainable fish stocks as well as help reassure consumers that fish are labelled with the correct species.

*The development of this technology is part of the EU SEA-TRACES project to inform the industry and its stakeholders of emerging technologies for fish identification and traceability. 




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