In a bid to fight food fraud and illegal fishing, a team led by researchers form the University of South Australia has devised a new approach for determining the origin of many seafood species.

According to the researchers, identifying the origin of seafood can enable fraud detection, thereby empowering authorities and businesses to stop it and thus prevent the occurrence of illegal fishing and seafood fraud, which threatens food security, the environment and the livelihoods of legitimate fishers.

As such, the researchers have devised a broader method for identifying the origin of seafood using the natural chemical markers imprinted on the shells and bones of marine animals. These signatures, according to the researchers, reflect an animal’s environment, thus revealing their origin.

The team focused exclusively on a chemical marker — oxygen isotopes — that is similar across several different marine animals. This chemical marker is reportedly determined by ocean composition and temperatures.

By focusing exclusively on this similarity, the researchers created a global ocean map of oxygen isotopes to help them understand where a marine animal originated by matching the oxygen isotope concentration in shells and bones to the oxygen isotope value on the map.

Following a series of tests, the team determined that the global map — otherwise known as an "isoscape" — can be used to identify the origins of several marine animals living in assorted latitudes.

The team reported a 90% success rate in classifying fish, cephalopods and shellfish between Southeast Asia and southern Australia.

Going forward, the researchers intend to combine oxygen isotopes data with other chemical marker data to improve the approach.

The article detailing this approach, The universal imprint of oxygen isotopes can track the origins of seafood, appears in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

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