A new study shows that authorities can reap the benefits of investing in fish DNA analysis techniques to enforce EU laws and protect sustainable fishing activities.
Institutions from across 30 countries answered a survey on the running costs of these techniques when monitoring fish products to catch fraudsters.
In all 57 compliance investigations identified, the costs of DNA analysis were found to be less than the value of the confiscations or fines imposed for infringements.
On the back of these results and in line with Article 13 ("new technologies") of the EU Common Fisheries Policy Control Regulation, the study calls for control and enforcement agencies to be encouraged to use DNA analysis techniques more routinely.
DNA analysis can protect our marine environment
The EU's Common Fisheries Policy is a set of rules for managing European fishing fleets and conserving fish stocks.
It is designed to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable and that they provide a source of healthy food for citizens.
Challenges like product substitution threaten these goals and damage consumer information and trust. Similarly, if farmed fish escape into the wild there is a danger that they interbreed with wild fish and diminish the fitness of those populations.
DNA analysis techniques have made enormous progress in recent years and can be very effective in tackling such challenges.
They give authorities the ability to identify species, determine the origin of catches and, in case of escapees from farms, ascertain the farm that aquaculture species found in wild catches have escaped from.
To protect consumers, JRC scientists have recently developed a fraud-fighting method to check the true species of fish present in a food sample.
Scientists used computer software to identify novel regions in the genome of fish that can be used as 'markers' specific to each species.
These markers are then analysed using 'next generation sequencing', a technology able to sequence hundreds of thousands DNA fragments in parallel.
With the developed method, the scientists were able to ascertain whether cod was present, irrespective of whether the sample is raw, frozen, salted, cooked, or even mixed with other fish species.
However, DNA‐analysis is not yet used routinely in investigations into compliance with fisheries and aquaculture legislation.
Without an objective cost-benefit analysis of using these techniques, it may be that they have been regarded as too expensive.
This study fills that gap in knowledge. Based on a number of recent fisheries and aquaculture compliance investigations that incorporated DNA‐analysis, the results indicate that the use of genetic analysis was justified and worthwhile in all cases examined.