Developing a forensic test for geographic origin of seafood products

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Ocean and Earth Science


The global trade in seafood is worth more than 250 billion dollars annually, providing high quality food to consumers and a valuable source of income and employment across the globe. Sustainable harvesting of wild fish depends on effective management and regulation, but regulation also opens potential for mislabeling and fraud. Seafood is among the most globally traded commodity, and establishing the chain of custody from geographic origin to point of sale (traceability) is a clear desire for retailers and customers. Development of genetic testing for species identity initially established widespread species substitution and mislabeling across the seafood retail network, particularly in small-scale retailers. The geographic origin or provenance of terrestrial food products can be tracked using chemical tools, but to such isotopic techniques have not been extended to seafood. This project, in association with Young's, the UK's largest supplier of seafood products, will establish the feasibility of isotope-based forensic tests to test claims of geographic origin at all points within the retail network.
Working with the industrial partner, Young's, you will initially identify traded seafood species and fisheries with high risk of spatial mislabeling. You will then bring together all available spatially explicit biogeochemical information including measured and modeled data, to determine the potential for isotopic discrimination between fishery areas associated with the species of concern. You will then build datasets of tissue samples from fish of known origin to characterize chemical fingerprints associated with the identified fishery areas, develop statistical algorithms to classify unknown samples according to geographic origin, and assess the accuracy and precision available using chemical forensic approaches. The main product of this PhD will be a suite of industry-ready, chemical forensic methods to test for geographic provenance, tailored to specific fisheries of interest. Finally you will apply the tools developed to quantify the possible extent of spatial substitution and mislabeling in different sectors of the retail network.


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