The NWFSC Genetics and Evolution Program has an active Forensic Laboratory with strong expertise in both East and West coast species. The Forensic Laboratory has analyzed evidence for more than 700 civil and criminal investigations involving violations of the Lacey Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, as well as international CITES violations.
NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the management of marine species in the United States, and the agency’s regulations are often species- or stock-specific. The NWFSC Forensic Laboratory identifies the origin of evidence items collected during OLE investigations, which helps law enforcement officials evaluate potential violations.
In addition to protecting our biological resources, the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement protects consumer interests. Species substitution, or “food fraud,” occurs when a restaurant, retail, or wholesale seafood business substitutes a species of low economic value for a species that has a higher market value. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global problem that represents a major loss of resources and revenue for affected countries. The recently released Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud aims to strengthen law enforcement and provide a risk-based traceability program, which will be enhanced by forensic identification.
NWFSC scientists often use DNA sequencing for species identification. Because DNA is contained in most of an organism’s cells and tissues, species identity can be determined from a wide range of samples including fish fillets, processed seafood, dried tissue, fish scales, bone, and blood. NWFSC forensic scientists can even extract DNA from trace samples, such as tissue cells on a fish hook or a swab of dried blood, and from heavily processed material, such as canned meat.