Event: Wildlife Forensics at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Join ZAWS next Thursday (March 9th, 2017) for a web-talk dinner lecture at 6PM, with NOAA Forensic Analyst Trey Knott! Learn how forensics can help stop seafood fraud and can be used to identify poaching of protected and endangered species.

From swabbing blood stains on boat decks to identify endangered sea turtle species or sharks killed for their fins, to going undercover to a restaurant serving whale sushi, to figuring out if a carved figurine is made out of whale bone or cow bone, forensic scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Forensic Laboratory work to analyze evidence collected during the investigation of civil and criminal violations of laws protecting marine species.

The Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammals Protection Act are easy for most of us to interpret – don’t hunt or trade in products from endangered species or marine mammals.

But have you heard of seafood fraud?

A 2013 Oceana study conducted DNA analysis on over 1,200 commercial fish samples from across the US, and found that over 30% of the samples were mislabeled. 87% of fish labeled as “red snapper” were actually different species of fish. 44% of all the retail outlets visited sold mislabeled fish, including 74% of sushi outlets and 38% percent of restaurants.

These seafood substitutions aren’t just semantics. The fish on your plate might be an overfished or protected species, might be labeled as wild-caught even though it was farm-raised, or may be hiding toxins or contaminants with adverse health effects. 84% of white tuna samples in the Oceana study were actually escolar – a snake mackerel that produces a gastrointestinal toxin. The sale of escolar is banned in Italy and Japan, other countries have issued health advisories, and our FDA advises against its sale in the United States.

There’s a lot more going on below the surface, and it’s NOAA’s job to stop it.