DNA Helps Stop Illegal Sailfish Fishing in Costa Rica

Sailfish DNA

SENASA Costa Rica has a new tool to stop illegal sail fishing.

The Nationa Animal Health Service (Senasa) now has a new tool to halt illegal sail fishing. A three-year-old law has banned catching and selling the fish.

But despite this, commercial fishermen have continued the practice, aided by the fact that, cut up into pieces and frozen, the meat is often passed off as that of legal species, including tuna.

But a year ago, the Pronature organization donated sophisticated equipment to Senasa to allow officials to analyze fish at the market and identify sailfish meat, through DNA.

From: Tracking DNA to stop illegal fishing

Despite international policy regulations and ‘eco-labelling’, illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing is still thriving worldwide. To tackle this problem a group of international researchers came up with a possible tool based on genetic testing. The results of their research were recently published in Nature Communications.

DNA-based tools are ideal for identifying the origin of fish and fish products, since DNA is found in all cells and can be extracted even from fried fish. The researchers used gene-associated markers which can recognise variances between genes that evolved through adaptation to different local conditions. They first had to identify population specific markers and then test how accurately they could assign animals to those populations based on these DNA markers. They found a respectable 93-100% accuracy in assigning individuals to their origin.

Costa Rican Seized Sailfish Meat

Over 15,000lbs of illegal sailfish meat was seized fron an Costa Rica Seafood company back in April, 2011

The new method was tested on four fish species: Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), sole (Solea solea) and European hake (Merluccius merluccius). Populations of these species are exposed to overexploitation and illegal fishing. The authors highlighted that the proposed method can “revolutionize origin assignment and become a highly valuable tool for fighting illegal fishing and mislabelling worldwide”.

Before the new tool, according to La Nacion, veterinaries had to depend upon a simple visual inspection at the market. But once cut up and the distinctive fin discarded, the flesh was easily passed off as legal fish.

Sailfish are also sought on the high seas by sport fishermen, but today’s sport fishing boats all follow the “catch and release” technique in which the fish is hauled to the boat, photos taken, then then freed to fight another day.

In the last year and a half, two national commercial fishing companies have tried to export some 15,000 kilos (more than 35,000 lbs.) of sailfish labeled as other species, reported the paper.

But, thanks to the new equipment, they didn’t get away with it. All it needed was a five cubic centimeter sample of flesh for the DNA scan.

Hector Mendez, legal director for the National Fishing Institute (INCOPESCA) told La Nacion that two criminal cases are on court dockets right now, one for a confiscation of 7,000 kilos of sailfish in April of 2011 and 8,000 kilos confiscated in Limon in a container last July.

Mendez added that the fine for selling illegal sailfish is about 9 million colones.

Why sailfish were declared of sport and tourism interest in 2005 is clear: while illegal sailfish goes for 1,400 colones per kilo on the street as food, the University of Costa Rica calculates that the live fish in the sea is worth 3,000 colones per kilo to sport fishermen and their employees–and it survives to thrill with its spectacular leaps when hooked.

Main Article from Costa Rica Star – SENASA Costa Rica has a new tool to stop illegal sail fishing

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