Current and future genetic technologies for fisheries and aquaculture: Implications for the work of FAO

Friedman KJ, Bartley DM, Rodríguez-Ezpeleta N, et al (2022) Current and future genetic technologies for fisheries and aquaculture: Implications for the work of FAO. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular. No. 1387, Rome

Within the last few decades, advances in genetic technologies have created powerful and efficient tools for fisheries stock identification, genetic improvement and domestication of aquaculture species and characterization of changes in aquatic life due to environmental or anthropogenic influences. Emerging genetic tools are improving our understanding of organisms in aquatic ecosystems, in terms of diversity, distribution, abundance, movement, function and adaptation, and are being applied in aquaculture facilities and across fishery and aquaculture value chains.

In this study expert elicitation was used to examine and predict current and potential future (10 year) impacts of the application of these novel technologies in fisheries and aquaculture. Highlighting the need to prepare sectors for likely changes that will follow. All suggestions received were collated into themes, to provide a conceptual framework that partitions potential impacts, and calls for required action — action required on governance, management and practical application of these innovations at both a national and international level.

A range of fundamental shifts in fisheries and aquaculture were suggested as a result of the advancement and application of cost-effective genetic technologies. The advice highlighted both positive and negative impacts, including:
● increased understanding of genetics and basic biology that will provide better insight into how genes function in the organism, the production system and in the ecosystem;
● characterization of fishery stocks increasingly informed by genetic information rather than geopolitics, which will assist, but likely also challenge, traditional fisheries management; ● increased understanding by aquaculturists and breeders, of genes and gene sequences, with access to synthetic biology that will result in the creation of improved farmed types, and probably their privatization;
● ability of aquaculturists to produce aquatic species in more environments, more efficiently and according to market demand, stemming from the ability of growers to ensure farmed types more precisely meet local conditions and consumer preferences;
● increased ability for compliance in fisheries and aquaculture along the full production value chain, with the ability to identify fisheries and aquaculture products and their origin through more accurate and informative genetic traceability analyses;
● advancement of ecosystem studies, using a range of technologies including environmental DNA (eDNA), to improve ecosystem management, rehabilitation actions, and present potential challenges on how to characterize and manage synthetic biology.

Such technologies will provide a clearer view of the fundamental building blocks of aquatic life, resulting in novel actions and new opportunities. However, such advances will also challenge managers in terms of using these novel technologies, but also in responding to the implications of their use across value chains.

Expert advice on the impacts of genetic technologies were collated, including actions needed to address those impacts for management and conservation in fisheries and aquaculture. Within its mandate for fisheries and aquaculture, the role FAO will need to play in providing support for its Membership in addressing present and future issues is considered, although it was recognized that no one organization could address them all. This report outlines potential future steps for, and requirements of, international development, conservation communities, national governments, industry and civil society, with need to further support the fishery and aquaculture sector through transformations brought about by rapidly developing genetic technologies.