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Fishy Sequences

Fraud is a major issue facing the seafood industry, as about a quarter of seafood on the market is estimated to be labeled as the wrong species, write Ben Shouse from the Pew Charitable Trust and Oregon State University's Scott Baker at Scientific American's guest blog.

Some initiatives, they note, are tackling the related issue of illegal fishing. For instance, an Obama administration task force has developed a plan to use satellites to watch suspicious fishing vessels and to ink international agreements to close ports to illegally caught fish. But Shouse and Baker say that a genomic approach should be added to increase the traceability of catches.

Currently, DNA barcoding approaches have been implemented on a small scale to detect seafood fraud, and they say that it can be scaled up and expanded. Handheld sequencing devices hold particular promise for this application, they say, as they could be used to detect and then trace illegally caught or mislabeled fish.

"Genomics is not the only tool needed to combat fisheries crime, " Shouse and Baker write. "By itself, it can't tell you if someone is exceeding a quota or using illegal gear."

But it can "improve our confidence in the identity of the fish we eat, to give fishermen fairer markets for their catch, and to make a critical food source more sustainable," they add.

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