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  • Illegal fisheries today are actually a really big business.

  • So the US, for example, is the largest importer of seafood in the world, about

  • 30%

  • of that seafood, we think comes from illegal fishing.

  • It's kind of international crime nexus at this point.

  • And that's what causes people to fish for sharks, take their fins, and then export these

  • to various countries.

  • So technology has a really big role in improving our capacity for surveillance in the oceans

  • and for reducing ocean crime and wildlife crime.

  • Shark fin are the biggest economic driver, but the shark meat then is kind of really

  • cheap.

  • And because other sources of protein like other fish are being depleted, in the oceans,

  • it's just easy to actually also pass on this shark meat as other fish.

  • The fish and chips that people were having in the UK was actually

  • shark meat where they actually thought they were having cod or whatever other fish,

  • it should be.

  • Why should we really care about sharks and why does it bother us if sharks are being taken out of our oceans?

  • Sharks are actually at the top of the marine food web, which means that they're apex predators,

  • and they keep the balance in oceanic ecosystems.

  • If you take out the apex predator, there is an increase in mesopredators that are below

  • the sharks in the trophic food web.

  • And that increase in mesopredators can then deplete species that are at the bottom of

  • the food chain and all of this together, it can just really lead to a big imbalance in

  • the ecosystem.

  • So the MinION is a portable sequencer where in you can take DNA from any given species

  • and quickly prepare it and then you can introduce into the MinION and then you plug it into

  • your laptop and you can actually start seeing sequencing happening in real time.

  • Let's take a scenario where we got a shipment and we want to figure out what's really in

  • this shipment of shark fins.

  • Is it a hammerhead shark or is it a silky shark? Or is it a great white shark?

  • So you would take a small bit of the fins in that shipment and extract the DNA and then

  • I take that DNA and do a sample prep and then plug it into the MinION sequencer.

  • I can figure out what species of fins I'm dealing with in the first

  • couple hours.

  • In order to get more extensive genomic data to figure out the stock, the origin population

  • for these fins, I would leave it plugged in and let it sequence all of the DNA that has

  • been entered into the device for about 48 hours.

  • Using convention techniques you would get this

  • Using conventional techniques, you would get the samples and send it out to a sequencing person.

  • And then wait for you to get the data back.

  • So when we are thinking of law enforcement sometimes the timing

  • is really important because you don't want to wait days or even months kind of get some

  • of these results.

  • Genomes offer a big array of information about a given species.

  • So the first thing that you can tell from looking at a genome is what is the species like.

  • If you have looked at multiple individuals of the same species,

  • you can start figuring out what is the effective population size of this species, from this particular population.

  • So let's see if there are very few genomic variations that would indicate that the population

  • size is not very big, which means that this could be a functionally extinct or really

  • depleted stock.

  • You can take those genetic differences and then test seafood that you think has come

  • from a given part of the world and ask is this shark that they're claiming has been

  • fished in the Indian Ocean?

  • Is it really from the Indian Ocean?

  • Or is it being fished in some where in Atlantic or the Pacific?

  • Genomic surveillance per se is really key in this toolkit because genetic signatures

  • of seafood is essentially tamper proof.

  • I can misreport and turn off my vessel monitoring system so that nobody can figure out where

  • I am.

  • I can mislabel my shipping boxes and say whatever I want to say about the origin and the contents.

  • However, I cannot change the genetic makeup or the DNA of my seafood

  • In the end,

  • the people who are engaging in illegal fishing are doing that in most cases

  • to support their livelihoods.

  • So until we include

  • the communities that are involved in fishing in our conservation programs and partner with

  • them, we are not going to have an effective and sustainable conservation strategy.

  • And no matter how many tools we add to our surveillance toolkit, there's always going

  • to be a way for these communities to engage in illegal fishing and they will

  • do it to support their families and their livelihoods.

  • So it's really important to include social sciences and understanding socioeconomic

  • drivers, and rehabilitation of communities that are involved in illegal fishing or illegal

  • wildlife crime to actually solve this.

Illegal fisheries today are actually a really big business.

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DNA Sequencing Is Cracking Down on Shark Poaching

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    Summer posted on 2021/04/13
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