Getting what you pay for when it comes to fish is trickier than it may seem. Sometimes you're paying top dollar for a certain species but you're really getting something else entirely -- a cheaper substitute. Fish species are tough to identify once they've been fileted and processed, but new technology for DNA testing fish and barcoding them could help solve this problem and boost the credibility of restaurants.
AP reports, "In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially approved so-called DNA barcoding - a standardized fingerprint that can identify a species like a supermarket scanner reads a barcode - to prevent the mislabeling of both locally produced and imported seafood in the United States. Other national regulators around the world are also considering adopting DNA barcoding as a fast, reliable and cost-effective tool for identifying organic matter."
According to the article, we will likely see the high-end fish market starting to self-regulate by using this new barcoding technology. It will be somewhat similar to a green eco-label in that it offers a certain amount of credibility or awareness by a company that buyers will appreciate and support.
DNA testing can be done by sampling fish from a single trawler load and barcoding the catch based on the sample.
The Barcode of Life, which we have covered on TreeHugger before, offers many applications for the technology to give a barcode to the DNA of a species, and therefore easily identify that species' DNA at any time. It can be used for anything from fish on restaurant menus to the endangered species trade. So far, the database includes over 167,000 species.
As AP reports, "Mislabeling is widespread in the seafood industry and usually involves cheaper types of fish being sold as more expensive varieties. A pair of New York high school students using DNA barcoding of food stocked in their own kitchens found in a 2009 study that caviar labeled as sturgeon was actually Mississippi paddlefish. In a published study a year earlier, another pair of students from the high school found that one-fourth of fish samples they had collected around New York were incorrectly labeled as higher-priced fish."
Thus, the barcoding technology could go a long way in improving the reputability of fish sellers -- and would be an important part of tracking true numbers of fish stocks. If fish are being sold under a certain species name yet are truly another species, that likely muddies up the data about the real status of those fish stocks. Barcoding and properly tracking species could potentially help improve regulations to keep stocks at sustainable levels.