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Professor Paul Bentzen assists a student with research in Dal's Marine Gene Probe Lab (Photo Credit: Dalhousie University)

Public database helps consumers identify illegally caught fish

Click on the flag for more information about Canada CANADA
Thursday, February 14, 2013, 19:50 (GMT + 9)

Researchers at Dalhousie University have developed a DNA database to identify all fish commonly observed in the ocean off Atlantic Canada, and have made it available to the public so it can have the widest possible impact in terms of ocean conservation, species tracking and seafood fraud prevention, as it will make illegally landed fish easier to identify.

Paul Bentzen, professor in the Department of Biology, Ellen Kenchington, a research scientist with the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Oceans and an adjunct professor also at the Biology department, and colleagues used a cataloguing process called "DNA barcoding" as part of a larger effort to catalogue all species.

This work was initiated in response to research which suggests that high-value species are still being illegally landed and kept. The catalogue may also help eliminate seafood fraud by making it easier for consumers to identify illegally caught species, since consumers are often given cheaper seafood than what they paid for at restaurants and grocery stores.

"With growing pressures from fisheries, climate change and invasive species, it is more important than ever to monitor and understand biodiversity in the sea, and how it is changing,” Bentzen stated.

“Our database provides a new tool for species identification that will help us monitor biodiversity. The availability of ever easier to use DNA sequencing technology can make almost anyone 'expert' at identifying species - and all it takes is a scrap of tissue," he continued.

Bentzen told that there can be many steps the fish goes through in the supply chain between the moment the fish is caught in the ocean and when it appears on a consumer’s plate. Given that many high-value species are becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, it is to be expected that temptation will continue to substitute a cheaper alternative -- or an illegally harvested one -- for a legal, more expensive one.

“We know it happens. DNA data never lie, unlike some seafood labels and restaurant menus. With the DNA database, it will be easier to detect seafood fraud when it happens," he concluded.

Related article:

Massachusetts plans to crack down on seafood fraud

By Natalia Real


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