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Fish, Genes and Genomes: Major International Conference at Bangor – FSBI 2016 (Convenor, Gary Carvalho)

Recent advances in genomics and biotechnology provide new and effective opportunities to tackle major challenges in fisheries sustainability, management, conservation and governance. It is with this view that the Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI) is organising an International Symposium on “Fish, Genes & Genomes: Contributions to Ecology, Evolution & Management”, at Bangor University, North Wales, in July (http://www.fsbi.org.uk/conference-2016/symposium-theme-2/). The conference is timely.

Fish represent a key component of global food security, and are collectively amongst the most traded food commodities worldwide. However, a significant portion of fish stocks is fully or overexploited, illegal fishing remains a rampant problem, and aquaculture growth, while being needed, is often insufficient or unsustainable. Genetic-based approaches play a key role in addressing these problems. However, there has not been a synthesis of advances in genomic approaches specifically applied to fisheries and aquaculture for many years.

The FSBI itself offered similar symposia back in 1991 and 1995, both of which significantly contributed to the development of the field. We expect that the 2016 symposium will become a similar landmark for the application of genomic approaches in fisheries and aquaculture management and governance.

The symposium will attract a broad range of scientists and stakeholders (with a projected attendance of  200 delegates), who will learn about the key role of biotechnologies in biodiversity conservation, fisheries and aquaculture science and in supporting the seafood industry. Importantly, the legacy of the meeting will also be secured through a special issue of one of Wiley's most successful and popular journals, the Journal of Fish Biology, in December 2016.

The symposium is being held at Bangor University, Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre, to discuss how recent scientific developments can assist in safeguarding global fish stocks. Leading scientists from 24 nations across the world, including Europe, Australia, Canada, USA, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, will discuss the value of new tools in fisheries that are based on DNA sequencing, so-called genomics. While global marine fish stocks continues to be worth around US$80-US$85 billion annually, international bodies point out that many fisheries are already severely depleted or in sharp decline in nearly every part of the world.

Threats such as climate change, overfishing and changes to habitats, together with an increased usage of wild fish to support aquaculture, means that livelihoods in many coastal communities and food security worldwide are under threat. The Bangor University FSBI meeting has representatives from many leading organisations including the European Commission, the Marine Stewardship Council, the Pacific Halibut Commission, the Royal Society of London and Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru) who, together with scientists, will assess the range of ongoing threats to our fisheries and options to tackle them.

While we are familiar with the study of genes and genomes in detecting and treating various human diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, it is only in recent times that such technologies can be applied widely to wildlife. In particular, the fact that many wild fish populations exhibit a local genetic signature based on sa common reproductive pool, in a similar way to geographic and ethnic groups of humans, it is now possible to develop management strategies that increase sustainability in the face of overfishing and climate change. Such local groupings, or “fish stocks”, need to be detected, and then monitored to ensure that reduced fishing quotas or habitat restoration protects those stocks that are vulnerable.

New DNA sequencing approaches, using up to many thousands of genes across fish genomes, allows accurate identification of stocks, and importantly allows a greater matching between biological diversity and management units. Most frameworks for managing our wild marine fisheries depends upon geographically defined squares distributed across the world’s oceans. On many occasions, these management units do not match the distribution of identifiable stocks, meaning that in many situations, a mixture of stocks may be fished as a single stock, allowing weaker stocks to be depleted or become locally extinct.

Moreover, new genetic approaches provide tools for monitoring the traceability of fish products from the point of capture on the high seas, to their eventual fate as fish fingers, fish and chips, dried or tinned products. DNA can be obtained from all such products, and any unknown species or stocks, can be compared with a database to check authenticity, and compliance with international regulations. One leading global body, the Marine Stewardship Council, present at the Bangor meeting, is the leading organisation that certifies many fish products on supermarket shelves and in dishes served in restaurants.

Such “eco-certification” provides a standardised approach for recognising sustainable stocks worldwide, and DNA techniques provide tests of authenticity, to ensure that when fish products sold or consumed carrying the MSC-certificate, are correctly labelled. Such tools make possible the tracking of fish populations and products. This information is highly valuable to fishery bodies to allow comparison with records of capture location that are now enforced by the EC. A further advantage of using DNA in such tests is that, in a way similar to using genetic fingerprints in crime detection, these new tools can be validated to forensic standards. Such approaches are additionally revolutionising our ability to identify species from processed products, as well as identifying capture location, which provides a new framework for fighting illegal fishing and mislabelling worldwide. Such is the sensitivity of new genetic approaches that it is now even possible to take a bucket of water from our oceans, extract the DNA, and to identify not only individual species, but a whole community, based on shedded skin or scales, and other biological materials released into the environment.

Such approaches are especially valuable for monitoring by diversity in our oceans, and is much quicker since it does not depend upon large teams of qualified scientists who can sample and identify species. So-called environmental DNA, or simply “e-DNA” is a particularly exciting approach because it allows scientists to study parts of marine communities that provide food and shelter for many fish stocks, as well as rapid assessment of ecosystem health, which provides many services such as uptake of carbon dioxide, recycling of nutrients, and release of oxygen into the atmosphere.

An important aspect of the meeting is not only to attract international world leaders, as you will see from our keynote speakers to date, but importantly also, to provide a comprehensive overview of how molecular tools are revolutionising our attempts to promote conservation and management of natural fish resources. Contributions to management would therefore be a key component of the meeting, including aspects relating to food safety, authenticity, traceability and eco-certification. 

Recent advances in genomics and biotechnology provide new and effective opportunities to tackle major challenges in fisheries sustainability, management, conservation and governance. It is with this view that the Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI) is organising an International Symposium on “Fish, Genes & Genomes: Contributions to Ecology, Evolution & Management”, at Bangor University, North Wales, in July.

The conference is timely. Fish represent a key component of global food security, and are collectively amongst the most traded food commodities worldwide. However, a significant portion of fish stocks is fully or overexploited, illegal fishing remains a rampant problem, and aquaculture growth, while being needed, is often insufficient or unsustainable. Genetic-based approaches play a key role in addressing these problems.

However, there has not been a synthesis of advances in genomic approaches specifically applied to fisheries and aquaculture for many years. The FSBI itself offered similar symposia back in 1991 and 1995, both of which significantly contributed to the development of the field. We expect that the 2016 symposium will become a similar landmark for the application of genomic approaches in fisheries and aquaculture management and governance.

The symposium will attract a broad range of scientists and stakeholders (with a projected attendance of 120-150 delegates), who will learn about the key role of biotechnologies in biodiversity conservation, fisheries and aquaculture science and in supporting the seafood industry. Importantly, the legacy of the meeting will also be secured through a special issue of one of Wiley's most successful and popular journals, the Journal of Fish Biology, in December 2016.

More information here.

Prof Gary Carvalho's staff profile

Publication date: 7 July 2016

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