Chemical fingerprints to fight against fish fraud

by AAP | September 13, 2022 1:42 p.m. | New

Australian scientists have developed new technology to help trace the origins of marine species in a bid to tackle illegal fishing and fraud in the seafood industry.

Scientists at the University of South Australia have been able to identify the chemical fingerprints of marine life in specific ocean environments.

Lead researcher Dr. Zoe Doubleday explains that the technology tests the bones and shells of sea creatures for chemical markers.

The scientists developed a map, which included geographical coordinates of the harvest and ocean temperatures, and used the markers to help determine where the seafood came from.

“These chemical fingerprints may reflect where they lived…their environment or their origins,” Dr. Doubleday told AAP.

The research, published in the scientific journal Fish and Fisheries, concluded that the techniques have the potential to change the way provenance is verified across the world.

A 2016 review by the conservation group Oceana of mislabeled seafood in the United States found that of 180 species replaced, 25 were considered threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.

Dr Doubleday said the technology is the first step in allowing scientists to determine where individual seafood has been caught.

“By helping to end seafood fraud, we can help end some of these truly destructive fishing practices that are happening around the world,” she said.

“My view is…you could audit a small proportion of seafood at the seafood processing stage…and then it can be analyzed…to test whether the origin of the label matches the animal data.

At the moment, the prototype can determine which latitude the seafood comes from, the next step is to determine the longitude.

The global study looked at around 70 species, but the test was not effective on all marine life.

Tunas, estuarine species and crustaceans were removed from the study.

Scientists reported 90% accuracy on the species they assessed.

Seafood Industry Australia welcomed the research, with chief executive Veronica Papacosta telling AAP that traceability and labeling are extremely important to Australian producers.

“It’s about our reputation and our supply of beautiful Australian seafood, and it’s critically important to what we do,” she said.