New discoveries in “marine forensics” by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) will allow federal seafood agents to genetically test blue marlin to quickly and accurately determine their ocean of origin. The test is needed to ensure that the blue marlin sold in U.S. seafood markets were not taken from the Atlantic Ocean. The import and sale of blue marlin from the Pacific or Indian oceans is legal in the U.S., while the marketing of Atlantic blues can bring civil or criminal penalties, including fines, seizure of a catch, or the loss of a fishing permit. Regulation of Atlantic blue marlin reflects overfishing and a troubling drop in population within Atlantic waters. Blue marlin—magnificent billfish that can grow to 13 feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds—are frequently taken as by-catch in tuna and swordfish fisheries, and are also targeted by recreational anglers. Marlin is sold in restaurants, and at stands in the Caribbean as barbecued fish-on-a-stick or as filling for fish fritters. The VIMS research team—graduate student Laurie Sorenson, molecular biologist Dr. Jan McDowell, and professor John Graves—reports the findings of their study, “Isolation and characterization of microsatellite markers for blue marlin, Makaira nigricans,” in a recent issue of Conservation Genetics Resources(Volume 3, Issue 4, 2011). Ms. Sorenson completed the work as part of her Master’s research in the College of William and Mary’s School of Marine Science at VIMS, with Dr. Graves and Dr. McDowell as her co-advisors. Dr. Graves, who chairs the U.S. Advisory Committee to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), says, “Blue marlin from the Atlantic can be illegally marketed as originating from the Indo-Pacific stock, which is currently unregulated.
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