How technology can tackle fishing fraud

31 May 2011
Molecular methods make it possible to verify where fish - such as these haddock - were caught. © Erik Lindebo, 2007

Molecular methods make it possible to verify where fish - such as these haddock - were caught. © Erik Lindebo, 2007

A European Commission report published this week shows how molecular technologies - based on genetics, genomics, chemistry and forensics - can provide clear answers to questions such as "what species does this fish product come from…where was this fish caught…is it wild or farmed?"

The report by the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), is called "Deterring illegal activities in the fisheries sector" and shows how these technologies can help in the fight against illegal practices and support traceability - including of processed products such as canned fish - "from ocean to fork".

Presenting the report at the Slow Fish event in Genoa, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki said: "Illegal fishing is said to be worth €10 billion per year worldwide. It is a criminal activity which negatively affects the global economy, disrupts marine ecosystems, and damages fisheries communities and consumers. Without respect for the rules in EU waters and beyond, there can be no sustainable fisheries. Today marks a first step into a new era, the challenge now will be transferring this new science into day-to-day practice across Europe."

Labelling fish and fish products with a false species name or declaring false geographic origins are two common fraudulent techniques in the fisheries sector. The report describes how molecular methods, such as those based on DNA-technology, make it possible to identify species even in processed products, without the need for expert knowledge. Molecular technologies are therefore a powerful tool for independent control and can assist verification procedures, especially during the so-called "physical examination" of a consignment, product, container, storage place, etc.

The JRC report advocates a coherent and practical EU-wide approach towards making new molecular technologies available to European control and enforcement authorities.

It aims to promote an informed dialogue among the various stakeholders and proposes the following concrete measures:

  • Stepping up dissemination of relevant information and advice to all stakeholders
  • Giving analytical laboratories in the Member States access to common repositories of reference data and other relevant knowledge for the analysis of fish and fish products. These repositories could be similar to the "fishtrace" database, hosted by the JRC
  • A network of certified test laboratories to carry out analysis for control and enforcement purposes and to share harmonised and validated analytical protocols
  • Ensuring full training of inspectors and laboratory staff for proper sample handling and analysis
The JRC is currently assessing costs and benefits based on data from more than 100 reported cases to facilitate the practical implementation of the technologies concerned. The costs of many of these technologies, in particular for DNA analysis, have been falling sharply.

Links to related companies and recent articles ...

European Commission

view more