Genetic technology in the management of wild fisheries

From Fish magazine, March 2013:

A new FRDC report examines the role that current and developing genetic technologies can play in addressing some of the key issues involved in the exploitation of wild fisheries.

Genetic technology provides a powerful new tool to understand how wild fish populations live, grow and change, and help ensure the long-term sustainability of wild fisheries.

Genetic technology has an enormous amount to offer the industry, from those in the fisheries right through to the consumer, FRDC executive director Patrick Hone says.

“People thought you could only use it to identify fish species or to work out some sort of population information, but now the technology for genetics has advanced so much and is getting so cheap, we’re using it for many different things,” he says.

“We’re using it for compliance in supermarkets, looking at stock substitution of fish species. We’re using it for a much better detail in terms of population estimates. We can actually use genetics to tell us how many animals and fish are out there in the ocean. We can use it to understand how fish populations move.”

The application of genetic technologies to wild fisheries management has been around for half a century, having originated in the North American salmon fishing industry, says geneticist Jennifer Ovenden, co-author of the report Scoping current and future genetic tools, their limitations and their applications for wild fisheries management. Its use in Australia is a more recent development, but genetic technology is rapidly proving its worth.

“In Australia, genetics is important because most of the species in Australia are relatively new to science and we know comparatively little about them,” says Jennifer Ovenden, who is based at the University of Queensland’s Molecular Fisheries Laboratory.

“In the northern hemisphere, scientists have been working on species for hundreds of years and they’ve accumulated a massive amount of information. But in Australia, if you want to harvest a new commercial species you’ve got to know some very basic facts about its biology,” she says.

One of the most common uses of genetic technology is to look at the number of populations within a particular fish species. Populations are biological stocks, which are the basic unit of fisheries management. They can be discovered by the presence or absence of certain genetic markers, such as particular sequences of DNA.

Genetic data complements data from other methods such as examining parasite abundance or looking at the biochemistry of otoliths (a tiny bone in the fish ear). Read more here.

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