23 May 2012
Study co-authored by the JRC on genetics for fish traceability published in Nature Communications
A scientific paper published on 22 May 2012 in Nature Communications demonstrates that it is possible to determine with high accuracy from which particular local population a fish comes from, for example if a herring comes from the Northeast Atlantic or North Sea, a sole from the Irish Sea or the Belgian Coast.
This study, which emerged from the FP7 funded project FishPopTrace, shows that by using a particular kind of genetic marker, so called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), unprecedented levels of genetic distinctions between populations of marine fish are evident. This breakthrough is likely to revolutionise origin assignment of marine fish and fish products by providing valuable tools for fighting illegal fishing and mislabelling worldwide.
While the JRC Reference Report 'Deterring illegal activities in the fisheries sector', published in 2011, illustrated the potential of genetic methods for geographic origin assignment in support of fisheries traceability, control and enforcement, their application for marine fish has, until now, been hampered by the knowledge of only minute genetic differences among marine fish populations.
This new study 'Gene-associated markers provide tools for tackling IUU fishing and false eco-certification', co-authored by scientists of the JRC's Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC), demonstrates the feasibility for origin assignment. The study considers four commercial fish species, cod, hake, common sole and Atlantic herring, on a pan-European scale. Origin assignment of individual fish, using the SNPs developed by the study, achieved a consistent accuracy of 93-100%. These high differentiation SNP assays were created and forensically validated using a centrally maintained, publicly available database developed and managed by the JRC.
It is estimated that up to 30% of fish brought to market throughout the world are caught through Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and are fraudulently mislabelled, for example as originating from a certified sustainable fishery, or originating in a fraudulently declared region to avoid the declaration of catches from overfished regions currently closed to fishing. Furthermore, legally caught fish are also frequently mislabelled in the marketplace as a different species to fetch higher prices. These practises not only threaten consumer confidence in the fishing industry, but also the sustainability of the marine ecosystem.