Blue marlin swim a little safer in the Atlantic

The task of curbing illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing (or IUUs) is formidable. Even with fisheries laws in place, the world’s oceans are such vast places that monitoring and enforcement is minimal. Regulations, however, do not need to come from the top, filtering down to be effective. Some campaigns, like educating the consumer about sustainable seafood, work at a more localized scale. And, with new research out of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), consumers can have a lot more information.

Marlin are the beautiful, big billfish that have been immortalized in works like Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. They are also sought after by recreational and commercial fishermen for trophies and meat. The fishing effort of blue marlin in the Atlantic basin, Makaira nigricans, has been so intense that their numbers have dwindled considerably. It is now illegal to harvest blue marlin from the Atlantic.

However, that does not stop fishermen from harvesting the marlin and then claiming that they came from elsewhere, commonly the Pacific. Previous efforts to distinguish between species at the docks were only accurate about half of the time, but a new genetic test has changed that.

Scientists at VIMS have identified 10 new microsatellite markers that can be used to differentiate between the Atlantic species and their Pacific counterparts. These repeating DNA sequences are passed along hereditary lines, and function similar to fingerprints. Using routine polymerase chain reaction tests (PCR), these microsatellite markers help distinguish one group from another.

This new research can aid in the enforcement effort of illegal fishing in the Atlantic, and serves as further example how new science can inform and enhance existing policies. Now that science has contributed so much, let’s do our part and be informed consumers.

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