DNA research is not just for gazing into our own distant past, we can also use genetic maps to track the great-grandmothers of tuna. One of the winners of the 2016 Marine Stewardship Council Scholarship Research Program, Rachel B. Mullins has used her funding to conduct next-generation DNA sequencing of yellowfin tuna.
“Sustainable fishing” may sound simple, but measuring whether or not a fishing operation is sustainable is actually quite complex, requiring plenty of research and data.
Fisheries scientists dedicate their time to studying how fishing can be balanced so as to allow aquatic species to maintain thriving populations, in a dynamically fluctuating and changing environment. Decades of research and managers’ experiences, trying to apply scientific advice on the ground, have shaped current practices in monitoring and managing fisheries sustainably.
Before joining the MSC in February 2016, I spent 3 and a bit years working for the UK government as fishery manager. One of my roles was to assess the impacts that different fishing techniques have on protected marine environments. As with many elements of fisheries management, the answer to the question: “Which fishing method is most environmentally-sound?” isn’t as simple as it may seem.
When you look at a piece of meat, or a piece of fish, it’s often difficult to tell what species it is. Turn it into a pie or a fish cake and the difficult becomes the impossible. That’s where DNA testing helps. With a sample half a centimetre wide dropped into a little tube of preservative, you can find out if your fish is what the packet says, or if it is something else. It’s not even very expensive.
Healthy tuna populations are essential to thriving oceans and fishing economies as well as being an important source of food. Tuna are among the most commercially valuable fish on the planet, providing livelihoods for artisanal fishing communities through to supporting large multinational companies. As such, protecting tuna populations and ensuring that they are fished in a sustainable way, is a global conservation and development priority.