Molecular technologies could now be used to foil fishing fraud and boost traceability by determining the origin of even processed products like canned fish, said scientists from the European Commission.
A report from the body’s Joint Research Council (JRC) said advances in DNA-based techniques combined with its falling costs may make it realistic to roll out the technology across Europe’s inspectionl and enforcement agencies.
Introduction of the technology would ensure traceability from ‘ocean to fork’ and lead to more intense scrutiny along the entire supply chain – including for fish processing outfits.
The JRC said it would help answer questions such as "what species does this fish product come from….where was this fish caught….is it wild or farmed?".
The study - Deterring illegal activities in the fisheries sector – describes how methods such as genetics, genomics and forensics make it possible to identify species and the region in which they were caught – including in processed products - without the need for expert knowledge.
The work was undertaken as a response to common fraudulent techniques of labelling fish products with a wrong species name or declaring false geographic origins.
Low-cost catfish fillets sold as expensive sole fillets or cod caught in the North Sea but declared as originating from the Baltic Sea are both examples of types of fraud in the fisheries sector that take up of the technology aims to stamp out, said Brussels.
"Illegal fishing is said to be worth €10bn per year worldwide,” declared
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki. “Without respect for the rules in EU waters and beyond, there can be no sustainable fisheries.
She added that the challenge facing Europe now will be “transferring this new science into day-to-day practice across Europe".
The JRC report sets out a practical and coherent EU-wide approach to making the novel molecular technology available to national authorities in the bloc.
Boosting advice and information to all control officials is one of the first measures to achieve this. Providing relevant laboratories with access to common repositories of data for the analysis of fish and fish products is a further proposal.
The JRC has also tabled a plan for a network of certified test labs for inspection and enforcement activities that could also share harmonised and validated protocols. An EU-wide training scheme for inspectors and lab staff to ensure proper handling and analysis of samples should be introduced, added the JRC.
The research body said it was now scrutinising cost and benefit information from more than 100 cases to allow it the practical implementation of the technologies.
“The costs of many of these technologies, in particular for DNA analysis, have been falling sharply”, it said.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science and the Commissior said wider use of molecular technologies would help “consumers get what they pay for and know what they are eating."