Report: Technology key to preventing IUU fishing

Genetics, genomics, chemistry and forensics are necessary tools to fight costly and destructive illegal activities in the seafood supply chain, but Europe needs a coherent framework to transfer valuable knowledge of these state-of-the-art techniques set to play a leading role in traceability, according to a new report from the European Commission.

Taking a closer look at the role of molecular techniques in the traceability of seafood products, the report suggests that these powerful analytical tools can “greatly” support ?sheries control and enforcement as well as verifying authenticity and origin of seafood “from ocean to fork.”

But the EC warns that while many of the technologies are already applied successfully, there does not yet exist a coherent EU-wide and international effort for technology transfer, involving all stakeholders, including control and enforcement bodies, regulators and the industry.

“By providing this reference report, the Joint Research Centre wishes to initiate and catalyze a focused and informed dialogue thereby contributing to sustainable ?sheries, healthy ecosystems in our oceans and a thriving ?sheries industry," wrote Jann Th. Martinsohn, the report’s author.

Across the globe, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing threatens already vulnerable fish stocks. In Europe alone, IUU fishing was worth EUR 10 to 20 billion in 2010. And according to the EC, at least EUR 1.1 billion worth of illegal fish is imported into the EU annually.

Fraud along the seafood supply chain sees seafood products sold under false labels, such as low-cost catfish labeled as more valuable sole or cod fillets. It poses a significant challenge to all stakeholders from seriously undermining sustainable fisheries to hoodwinking consumers through false information.

In a bid to fight IUU fishing, the EU recently introduced two major and complementing legal instruments in November 2009 and January 2010. Both regulations place emphasis on detailed catch documentation and traceability. They cover all stages of the supply chain from catch to landing, transport, processing and the markets.

While traceability is generally acknowledged as “a highly powerful tool” in support of monitoring, control and enforcement in the fisheries sector, the EC report underlines that traceability is vulnerable to falsification, as it is largely based on certificates accompanying goods and labeling of products.

An efficient response to this inherent vulnerability are molecular techniques, said the report’s author. Molecular techniques based on genetics, genomics and chemistry, and embedded in a forensic framework, have “great” potential to effectively trace seafood products throughout the food supply chain, supported by independent control measures, said Martinsohn. They can also provide control and enforcement authorities with “efficient” analytical tools for generating evidence in court trials.


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