Northwest Fisheries Science Center

What is Forensics?

Forensic science is the application of scientific methods to answer questions within a legal setting. For scientific analyses to be accepted in a court of law, the level of rigor and documentation is different from what is typical in a research laboratory setting.

The Forensic Laboratory adheres to the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science (SWFS) Standards and Guidelines, which outline best practices to ensure labs and scientists provide high-quality forensic science capable of withstanding courtroom scrutiny.

Evidence Handling

The Forensic Laboratory is a secure facility with rigorous controls in place to ensure the integrity of evidence and its analysis. We maintain chain of custody for all evidence items and minimize internal transfers to keep the chain short.


We use vouchered reference specimens to validate all forensic methods prior to their use in forensic casework. We use multiple controls in all casework to detect potential contamination and demonstrate that our assays are working correctly.


Our scientists report laboratory results to the submitting official in a concise and understandable format. Though we provide these reports for law enforcement, they are written so that all members of the court can easily understand the analysis and conclusions. Our scientists are also trained in expert witness testimony, and are available to testify in court as needed.


Forensic scientists at the laboratory are Certified by the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science and undergo annual proficiency testing. In addition to their scientific background, education and experience, they are familiar with the legal considerations associated with evidence analysis and trained in rules governing the admissibility of scientific evidence in court.