Biotechnology and profiling wild commercial fisheries

Learn about our programs under biotechnology and wild commercial fishery.

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About the wild commercial fishery industry

Canada has a long history of recreational and wild fisheries. Fishery managers are now able to use new technologies, including biotechnology and genomics.

We have one of the world's most valuable commercial fishing industries, because Canada:

The capture fishery operates in 3 broad regions:

The capture fishery accounts for 76% of total fish and seafood production in Canada. Together, lobster, crab and shrimp comprise 67% of the landed value of all fish and shellfish harvested in Canada.

The Atlantic fishery accounts for approximately 80% of total landings with value leaders:

The Pacific fishery accounts for roughly 16% of total landings, with value leaders including:

The commercial fisheries remain the mainstay for the economy of approximately 1,500 communities in rural and coastal Canada.

At Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), we're focused on an ecologically sustainable fishery and innovative biotechnology and genomics tools.

Setting fishing quotas with the international fishery

International fisheries and oceans management issues involve a balance between conservation and protection of the ocean's ecosystems and an increasing demand for (and use of) ocean resources.

We want to work with other countries to be able to feed the rapidly growing global population. However, we need to be realistic and careful about how much fish, lobster and other seafood we harvest.

Our scientists contribute to a more sustainable fishery through developing genetic tools to ‘mark' or identify fish (also called DNA fingerprinting). This allows for the attribution of fish stocks that straddle international boundaries to country of origin.

Canada contributes to the international knowledge and tool base for addressing the challenge of managing international fisheries. We do this through the development of sensitive, accurate and rapid tests that provide valuable information to fisheries and oceans managers. This supports and contributes to our responsibilities under organizations such as the:

Genotype library

DFO scientists are building genotype libraries of marine species. A genotype is an image of pieces of the DNA from an individual organism.

By charting each species population by population using genetic identification (genotyping), scientists can:

These genotype libraries help to build a clearer understanding of population dynamics of these marine species. In addition to the species already included in this library, DFO scientists aim to include:

For example, we take samples from fish in a particular stream, analyze them and store the genetic information (genotype) for that fish in the library. The following year, we'd take samples from the same stream and cross-reference them with those in the library. Our scientists can then determine if:

Identification and conservation through DNA analysis

We're enhancing sustainable fisheries management through the development of biotechnology tools, such as using genetic information derived from non-lethal sampling to identify specific fish stocks.

Being able to distinguish one stock from another helps fishery managers:

This information, and the speed at which it can be collected, helps fishery managers make rapid decisions, such as:

We house our expanding genetic databases within genomic libraries for Canadian marine species.

We're using genomic tools such as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and nuclear DNA (nDNA) to identify stocks of beluga whales. The tools are used to:

Management actions are taken to enforce area closures when the DNA analyses indicate that the area is frequented by a stock at a lower abundance level.

Tracing fish DNA

Sometimes, it's important to know where a particular fish or shellfish came from to ensure it was harvested legally. We've been able to use DNA evidence to successfully prosecute cases dealing with salmon and abalone.

Forensic DNA tools are particularly useful in catching and prosecuting poachers. DNA fingerprinting allows us to prove that their confiscated fish or shellfish was poached or illegally harvested.

Pinto abalone from British Columbia is a fragile population. Having their genetic profiles makes it difficult, if not impossible, for poachers to claim their abalone was imported.

Pacific salmon genetic baseline datasets

Due to its commercial viability and ease of tracking, salmon have become one of the most studied aquatic species in Canada and globally.

DFO scientists have developed large, genetic baseline datasets for Pacific salmon. These datasets:

The genetically based information on which stocks are being caught in a fishery can be obtained in real time (in less than 24 hours), while the fishery is still occurring. This allows fishery managers to make rapid decisions on whether to keep a fishery open or close it to shelter stocks of concern from harvest.

DFO analyzes over 10,000 chinook, sockeye and coho salmon samples each year to manage fishery openings. This enables Canada to maximize catch under the U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty allocations, while maintaining strict harvest limits on stocks of conservation concern.

For example, we used real-time genetic management of the 2003 and 2004 north coast troll fishery on chinook salmon. This enabled the quota to be achieved for the first time since 1994 without overharvesting west coast Vancouver Island populations of conservation concern. This resulted in an increased annual revenue to the fisheries of over $3 million dollars.

In contrast to salmon, for many other marine species, there's little to nothing known about their genetic information. In these cases, we scan the genomic DNA for regions (markers) that can then be used to generate the genotype libraries for the marine species of interest.

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