The mislabeling of seafood is a global phenomenon that has the intent of misleading consumers about the products they are buying. A study done in 2020 found the economic loss from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is US$26-50 billion dollars globally. The action of fraud has many negative impacts on both human and environmental health by misrepresenting what species consumers are buying and what species are being extracted from the sea. This issue isn’t new, but the problem is still difficult to address because of the complex commerce pathway present within the sector.
Most tests that are done to check for mislabeling involve DNA analysis, which helps to identify species that are similar in appearance once filleted or skinned. The problem with this is the amount of time and resources that are required for the current methods being used. Seeing this gap within the analysis process, MMI is developing a new way of testing that will result in rapid species identification that can be done on-site and with more accuracy through the creation of a new fish DNA testing (FDAT) assay.
Substitution: when a less-expensive seafood product is substituted for a more expensive product
Mislabeling: when species name or other information (country of origin, transfers) is not correctly labeled on a product to avoid regulations and fees
Fraud can create negative impacts on those with seafood allergies or have specific nutritional needs
Decreases in efficient and sustainable management for fisheries can result due to inaccurate statistics on catch count and quotas
For buyers/consumers, fraud can lead to economic losses that can be detrimental to their livelihoods
To identify a species, conventional PCR testing is done. In this test, gene markers designed from a DNA region, called a “barcode”, are used for universal marker identification. Currently, they primarily contain longer sequences to compare, resulting in a lack of specificity when trying to distinguish closely related species like Atlantic and Pacific cod.
The current type of DNA analysis being performed requires the shipment of samples to the lab where they are then processed by trained personnel for identification. These samples can be mixed or degraded by the time testing is done.
These factors can create less accuracy in results. Also, this timeline does not allow end-users to have on-site data about what species they have, creating a delay from the time it takes for processing the samples to the sharing of data results with end-users working with the seafood on location.
The new FDAT assay kits being created revolve around the type of "point-of-care" testing used for the COVID19 pandemic. This test doesn’t use conventional PCR testing but instead uses an isotherm amplification platform for rapid DNA extraction and high specificity. The process is simple and fast, making it easily accessible for those within the seafood sector. It also uses whole-genome data to increase the accuracy of sample identification.
This test will have value at all points within the seafood sector, especially for high-volume, centralized points including fish markets, restaurants, port-based processing facilities, and along country borders.
The key advantage of these assay kits is the ability to have end-users test samples at multiple supply chain points themselves. This will help consumers identify any fraud stock in real-time, allowing for proper identification and action towards fraudulent activity.
The testing can be broken down into three steps: Sample collection, Processing, and Results Collection.
Improving seafood testing will help consumers understand where their fish come from by instilling confidence in their food choices
Testing helps people who depend on the seafood industry for their livelihoods by supporting sustainable fishing practices