18 August 2016

It is National Science Week so let’s celebrate the inspiring work of our scientists and the important role science and technology plays in understanding our fisheries.

Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans – the sheer size and volume of our oceans means they are our final frontier. Did you know that Australia has the third largest marine domain in the world? And, over 4 000 fish species live or pass through our fisheries.

To effectively manage Commonwealth fisheries, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) partners with a range of scientists and research organisations to continue to learn more about our marine environment and fish stocks. This information then informs fisheries management decisions.

However, measuring fish stocks is a tricky proposition; it is not like counting sheep in a paddock. Fish tend to swim through our arbitrary boundaries and are very good at hiding. That means an innovative approach is required to measure biomass – fish population numbers.

A new genetic approach by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) for measuring southern bluefin tuna (SBT) stocks has caught the attention of fisheries managers across the world through genetic research.

Genetic research has come a long way since the double helix was discovered.  New techniques have been developed by scientists to give us the equivalent of a paternity test for fish. The correct name for this technique is close-kin DNA matching where scientists take genetic samples of both juvenile and adult fish species and test them to see if they have a parent – child relationship. Once they have a good sample size they can calculate the population size of the fish.

AFMA’s Senior Manager of Tuna and International Fisheries, Trent Timmiss, said that the results from close-kin DNA matching used on SBT is very promising and looks to provide a cost effective and accurate way to determine fish population size.

“The data from CSIRO’s close-kin DNA matching study of SBT has shown that the population size of this highly prized fish is greater than previously thought. It is also good news for other fisheries such as school shark where this technique is also being employed,” Mr Timmiss said.

“Advances in science are fundamentally changing the way we manage fisheries. DNA not only allows us to assess population size but we can also track where fish are born and where they have lived. This information will be essential in ensuring sustainable fish stocks and food security across the globe.”

Enjoy the National Science Week celebrations and keep in mind the next time you tuck into some fish and chips, the important part scientists and their research play in making sure there’s always going to be fish on your plate.

For more information on how AFMA uses cutting edge science in managing our fisheries visit the AFMA website.