Maritime law enforcement to test fish DNA

maritime law enforcement
© iStock/Vlada_Z

Conducting DNA analysis on fish may help fishery authorities to enforce EU regulations on sustainability and overfishing, new research suggests.

The study, conducted by scientists from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, examined the efficacy and cost of a variety of methods for reducing aquatic fraud across 57 investigations in 30 countries. In comparison to other techniques to address species fraud, such as confiscation and fines imposed on transgressors, DNA testing was found to be less costly than the other methods investigated; while maintaining comparable levels of effectiveness.

Product substitution has been a pressing issue for maritime law enforcement authorities as unscrupulous sellers seek to maximise profits by passing off less popular kinds of fish as species in high demand, such as cod. In addition to this, fishing fleets have found there is a risk of farmed fish escaping into the wild and interbreeding with wild species, which affects both the fitness of wild marine life and the available population statistics. DNA testing allows authorities to determine the species of a fish; its geographical origin; the farm from which it escaped, where relevant.

The paper’s abstract says: “The high demand of cod is one of the reasons why cod products are often mislabelled, and numerous observations have been made on the replacement of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) by cheaper species or its illegal capture by fish quotas. Fish species identification is traditionally based on morphological features, but this may be difficult in case of heat-treated or processed products, or where the species look similar, as in Gadoid group. DNA-based approaches (using either nuclear or mitochondrial DNA) are most commonly used in this case, due to their high specificity and to the high resilience of the target molecules to food processing techniques.”

Having determined that DNA testing is a cost effective solution to minimising product substitution both as a deliberate act of fraud and as an inadvertent consequence of species intermingling, the scientists behind the study have called for DNA and genetic analysis to be more widely implemented in maritime law enforcement activities.


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