Innovative Tools and Methods for Ensuring Seafood Authenticity

16 June 2021

An advanced course for professionals on “Innovative tools and methods for ensuring seafood authenticity” was organized online from 26 April to 6 May 2021, by CIHEAM Zaragoza, together with the INTERREG Atlantic Area Project SEA-TRACES and the Fisheries Division of the FAO.

The 178 applications received from 33 different countries of Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia shows the interest in the subject matter of this course. The course was finally attended by a total of 30 professionals from 17 countries (Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, Guinea Conakry, India, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Portugal, São Tomé, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey and United Kingdom) from public institutions and the seafood industry, such as members of the competent authorities for official controls, ONGs, technical advisors and professionals from R&D institutions dealing with seafood control and management.

During 9 online streaming sessions, nine invited renowned experts from research centres, universities and private companies in different countries delivered a programme of lectures, which also included applied examples, real case studies and discussions, with the objective of of introducing participants to innovative tools and methods for ensuring seafood authenticity. Specific lecture topics covered during the course included sessions on: global seafood trade; Food fraud in the seafood value chain; ensuring seafood authenticity; methods for ensuring seafood authenticity; SEA-TRACES case studies; and a series of practical work exercises on the analysis of seafood labelling in different products and countries, protein and DNA analysis methods, FoodChain Lab, and the utilization of rapid and on-site methods.

The cost of food fraud to the overall global food industry is estimated at around 30 billion euro, which threatens the sustainability of supply chains. To ensure sustainability and to meet the current demands of the global seafood marketing chain to combat fraud, an effective, science-based traceability system must be able to identify species and the geographical origin, and to distinguish between wild-capture and farmed products. The system must also be able to identify fresh and frozen products, and the many different forms of processed seafood that are currently traded.

The course opened with the introduction of the organizers CIHEAM, FAO and SEATRACES. An overview about the SEATRACES project was presented by the coordinator Carmen G. Sotelo. The project aims to develop tools to address a better control of traceability and labelling of seafood. Two introductory sessions provided by John Ryder from FAO dealt with the world importance of seafood for human nutrition and the overall production and trade of this type of food. There was also another session where the problem of food fraud and, in particular seafood fraud, was addressed, providing many examples of this criminal activity and its impact for both business and consumers.

The course contained several lessons for explaining the theoretical basis of the main authenticity tools available. Dr. Monica Carrera from CSIC explained the use of proteomics tools for the identification of species. She focused on the use and power of mass spectrometry for the fast identification of fish species, providing the existence of a database that supports the correct identification of specific peptides present in the sample. Dr. Miguel Angel Pardo from AZTI and Dr. Carmen G. Sotelo from CSIC addressed the use of different DNA analysis methods to differentiate species. Among the methods explained, the following can be mentioned: PCR, real time-PCR, isothermal amplification, DNA sequencing (Forensically informative Nucleotide Sequencing, FINS), DNA probes and portable instruments and techniques. Dr. Françoise Denis from MNHN went on to describe other methods, generally described as omics, to solve different authenticity problems such as the presence of mixed species in processed products using Next Generation Sequencing, use the microbiota analysis to identify origin or production methods and Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) to differentiate populations and geographic origin.

Dr. Idoia Olabarrieta from AZTI gave an overview of non-destructive and fast techniques such as NIR, Raman and NMR for the differentiation of wild from farmed fish. She also introduced chemometric analysis and the advantages coupling it with NIR spectroscopy and Time Domain Reflectance for the detection of added water or the use a previous freezing process in fish sold unfrozen. She showed that the use of these advanced technologies (e.g. vibrational spectroscopy and chemometrics) could contribute to improving the authenticity of seafood.

Validation and standardization are important requirements for any analytical method. This topic was covered by Mrs. Ute Schröder from MRI who gave some examples of the validation process of fish species identification DNA-based methods, such as DNA sequencing and qualitative qPCR methods. In the case of qPCR methods, she also discussed the concept and determination of important paremeters such as specificity, crosstalk, limit of detection (LOD), efficiency, linearity and robustness.

Another important key element to ensure seafood authenticity is traceability. The topic was addressed by Mr. Valur N. Gunnlangsson from Matis. During his lessons he presented important benefits produced by traceability, such as supply chain transparency, quality control, saving costs, fighting IUU fishing, among others. Important challenges for the fishery industry were also identified and discussed like the definition of Traceable Resource Units that could increase and decrease the granularity of the information transferred from one step to another along the seafood value chain, and the need for standardized formats to allow the exchange of this information.

Some of the SEATRACES case studies were also presented. Dr. Angeles Longa spoke about the Protected Designation Origin (PDO) “Mejillón de Galicia” for mussels and the economic and socioeconomic benefits associated to the brand for the region of Galicia (Northwest of Spain). Dr. Françoise Denis presented an overview of oyster denominations and brands in France, Dr. Miguel Angel Pardo explained the study carried out by AZTI about the label “Anchoa del Cantábrico” including a consumer study to value the potential PDO application for this traditional species in the North of Spain. Finally, Dr. Carmen G. Sotelo spoke of the economic and socioeconomic study performed in Galicia to evaluate the benefits of a brand that helps to recognize artisanal fisheries in Galicia.