In cod we trust: DNA test combats fisheries fraud

May 22, 2012

Scientists on Tuesday said they had devised a DNA test to pinpoint the geographical origins of commercial seafish, in a breakthrough against illegal trawling that threatens fish stocks worldwide.

The technique so far has been developed for four species -- , , common sole and European hake -- under a campaign to combat fisheries fraud in Europe.

But it could easily be widened to more species and help fishery guardians in other jurisdictions, the researchers said.

The invention comprises a databank of changes to the genetic code, called , or SNiPs.

Species that hail from a specific region, such as the North Sea herring or Baltic cod, have a SNiP profile that is exclusive to that area.

Analysing DNA from a single fish, even if it has been processed or cooked, gives the geographical telltale.

As a result, inspectors -- and thus consumers -- can be told whether the fish is indeed the species or from the fishery claimed on the label.

"We set out to develop a method that could be used throughout the European food supply chain and across the fish industry," said Gary Carvalho, a professor at Bangor University in Wales who led the research consortium.

"The tools can be used to identify or compare a set of pre-identified within fish samples at any point in the consumer chain from net to plate, and to trace the fish back to their region of origin or breeding group."

The project, called FishPopTrace, brought together 15 research groups, from the European Union (EU), Norway and Russia.

It is part of a three-year, four-million-euro ($5-million) EU initiative to develop better testing and traceability to combat fisheries fraud.

In 2011, EU member states had to introduce laws requiring any fish on sale to be identified according to their species and region of origin.

But there have been many documented cases of abuse.

Fish may be wrongly labelled as having been caught in , and fillets from cheaper species are sometimes passed off as being from more expensive ones.

Around a fifth of commercially-caught fish around the world are "IUU," meaning illegal, unreported and unregulated, according to a 2009 investigation.

In lab tests, the SNiP signature was 93-100 percent accurate, say the scientists.

Turning to the practicality of the technique, inspectors would send samples to a DNA laboratory, a facility that is becoming widespread in advanced economies, to test the fish.

"Any reasonably well-equipped molecular genetic laboratory" should be able to SNiP-analyse several hundred fish per day, at a cost of around $25 (20 euros) per fish, say the authors.

Explore further: How to get high-quality RNA from chemically complex plants

Related Stories

What fish is on your plate?

May 27, 2011

Low-cost catfish fillets sold as expensive sole fillets or cod caught in the North Sea but declared as originating from the Baltic Sea are both examples of types of fraud in the fisheries sector. A European Commission report ...

North Sea cod and herring under threat

Jun 26, 2006

European scientists say cod and herring populations in the North Sea are not reproducing enough, jeopardizing the Norwegian fishing industry.

Action needed to keep fish on the menu in 2050

Apr 23, 2012

The latest study suggests we may still be able to eat as much fish as we do today 40 years from now. But for that to happen, we'll have to change our ways, say scientists.

Recommended for you

Better mouse model enables colon cancer research

34 minutes ago

Every day, it seems, someone in some lab is "curing cancer." Well, it's easy to kill cancer cells in a lab, but in a human, it's a lot more complicated, which is why nearly all cancer drugs fail clinical ...

How to get high-quality RNA from chemically complex plants

21 hours ago

Ask any molecular plant biologist about RNA extractions and you might just open up the floodgates to the woes of troubleshooting. RNA extraction is a notoriously tricky and sensitive lab procedure. New protocols out of the ...

Plant fertility—how hormones get around

22 hours ago

Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology have identified a transporter protein at the heart of a number of plant processes associated with fertility and possibly aging.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.