New tools could secure the future of seafood

27 September 2017

The fishing industry and global fisheries managers need to get on board with the power of genomics to secure the future of seafood, say scientists.

A new study shows the science of genomics – understanding the genes that control characteristics in organisms – remains severely under-utilised in the global seafood industry, both in aquaculture and in managing wild fish stocks. 

Use of genomics to help breeders select desirable traits in parents and offspring is well-established in plant and animal breeding programmes but its potential for improving the health and viability of fish stocks is largely untapped. The first genomic sequence of a key seafood species was published only in 2011.

Fishing and aquaculture provide 4.5 billion people with 15% of their animal protein and how the industry will cope with a rapidly growing global population is “a pressing question”, says Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Maren Wellenreuther, co-author of a global review of genomics in the seafood industry.

“Genomics techniques can help domestic fish populations grow faster, track the impact of hatchery releases, develop disease resistance and identify more wild populations suitable for aquaculture – but not until it is applied in fisheries policy and management,” says Dr Wellenreuther.  

Dr Louis Bernatchez of Université Laval, Québec, says science has made a huge leap from ‘low-resolution’ genetic methods, which have been around for decades, to the high-resolution science of genomics, which can now assemble data across whole species in a cost-effective manner.

“Incorporating this science in both wild fisheries and aquaculture could make the step change we need around the world in managing and maintaining healthy stocks,” he says.

Adopting genomics would have another key benefit, making it easy to trace marine products ‘from the ocean to the fork’.

“High certainty about origin and identity is crucial for sustainable utilisation, and to prevent food fraud,” he says. “Genomics tools, which are accurate and reliable, are ideal for determining authenticity, and verifying labelling information.”

A review of the study, ‘Harnessing the Power of Genomics to Secure the Future of Seafood’, is published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. It was based on research among fisheries scientists and policy makers in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the western Pacific, South Africa and New Zealand.

Dr Wellenreuther says: “The value of genomic information does not need to be further proven. Instead, we need immediate efforts to remove structural roadblocks and to integrate genomic-informed methods into management and production practices.”

Contact:
Ian Parkes
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