Kenya adopts DNA barcodes to protect and save fish resources

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Kenya will employ fish DNA barcodes to combat illegal fishing and sea resource smuggling.

The scientific project entails gathering various species, producing molecular specimens, and profiling them in order to create a reference library of the country’s aquatic organisms, which will allow the government to resolve various pending cases involving unlawful fishing.

“Kenya has around 6,000 commercial species, and we’ve been unable to claim any illegally caught fish from the country for years.

We will be able to claim our resources with this scientific exercise because, despite their physical similarity, each fish has a unique molecular identification that is associated with a specific region,” said Thomas Mkare, a senior research scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).

Before beginning DNA barcoding, researchers purchased random, varied kinds of fish from fishermen, photographed each target specimen, and then saved fin clips derived from the dorsal fins in 100% ethanol before long-term storage in a freezer at -20°C. Dr. Mkare stated that the laboratory has developed DNA barcodes for 15 marine species since the exercise began this year.

Through the Centre for Aquatic Genomics, Forensics and Bioinformatics (AGFB); a laboratory section under KMFRI, several aquatic organisms such as fish, sharks and rays, crustaceans and molluscs are currently being analysed to generate DNA barcode sequences for each species. “We have begun generating a DNA barcode reference library of Kenya’s aquatic organisms, which will go on in the next few years, a project that is being supported by the Kenyan government,” said Dr Mkare.

Once the DNA barcode reference library is established, it will contribute to sustainable harvesting and culturing, thereby leading to food security, and socio-economic development.

“It will also contribute towards the attainment of the Big-Four development agenda, the Blue Economy Development agenda, the Vision 2030, and the Sustainable Development goals (SDGs),” said Dr Mkare.

Kemfri director-general James Njiru said Kenya’s marine waters harbour more than 6,000 species of economically important species ranging from marine mammals, sharks, rays,fishes, crustaceans, and molluscs. He added that apart from fish, the insititute is profiling more than 300 species of corals, nine species of mangroves and 12 species of seagrasses.

At a global level, DNA barcoding libraries that are available include the Barcode of Life Data base (BOLD) and the NCBI database. However, for rapid and most accurate species identifications, development of national databases is important.

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