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Sustainable Fisheries

Letter to the public

It is my pleasure as the coordinator of AquaTrace to welcome you to the project website.

In this project we will take advantage of cutting edge genetic and genomic analytical approaches to support aquaculture activity and management, as well as the protection of our marine and freshwater environments.

This includes the development of forensically validated genetic tools for tracing the origin of farmed fish and to monitor genetic interactions between fish from aquaculture and their wild conspecifics. Additionally we aim at identifying the locations in fish genomes which are responsible for the physiological and life-history differences we observe between wild and cultured fish. Based on the scientific insights we will provide a risk assessment and management recommendations concerning the genetic impact of aquaculture fish on wild fish gene pools. The results and new insights emerging from AquaTrace could provide also very valuable support for the aquaculture industry, for example to guidebreeding and domestication processes.

The AquaTrace consortium includes 22 partners from across Europe encompassing diverse expertise ranging from molecular genomics to practical fish breeding. Likewise, project partners include Universities, Governmental, EU and private research institutions as well as fish breeding companies and associations. Overall this broad background is expected to strongly contribute to the success of the project as well as in the dissemination of results to the end users.

We all look forward to collaborate within the project, but also welcome interaction and feedback from visitors and users of this site which could serve as an interactive dissemination platform. Click on the relevant buttons to learn more About AquaTrace, to visit the participating groups or to contact us. While the Member Area is reserved for the collaborating partners, the Data Access will provide in the course of the project applications to view and query the geo-visualized data derived from the project and a statistical interface. The policy corner and the news corner offer you additional information on the EU legislative process and on the most recent developments with relevance to aquaculture.

We all look forward to the next four years with AquaTrace and hope you will enjoy following our progress here.

Yours sincerely

Professor Einar Eg Nielsen, Coordinator of AquaTrace


Why does it matter?

Escapes or releases of domesticated aquaculture fish pose a potential risk of adverse effects on native fish gene pools. In order to assure a prosperous and sustainable future for European aquaculture, the development of tools for identifying wild and farmed fish, interbreeding between them and effects on key fitness traits (survival and reproduction)is essential. AquaTrace will develop innovative molecular genetic tools, which will improve the ability for tracing farmed fish in the wild and for documentation of their potential effects on wild conspecifics. Additionally the identification of locations in fish genomes which are responsible for physiological and life-history differences between wild and cultured fish, can support the aquaculture industry: the developed tools and performed analyses could also find their way into breeding activities, e.g. regarding analysis of genetic resources, parentage assignment and selective breeding. Moreover, the research carried out under the remit of AquaTrace can provide guidance for re-stocking endeavours.
Through its strategy and engagement with the aquaculture industry AquaTrace intends to support aquaculture activities and also to contribute to the the main objectives the European Commission in stimulating "Blue Growth"[1] and in particular in building a sustainable future for aquaculture.
The project will also contribute to environmental protection under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) [2] since it is relevant for the descriptor n°1 on biological diversity as well as descriptor n°2 on non-indigenous species.

[1] Communication from the Commission: Blue Growth opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth. (European Commission, COM(2012) 494 final).
[2] Directive 2008/56/EC of the European parliament and the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive).

For cited literature see also ‘Policy Corner' of AquaTrace website.


What will the project achieve?

The rationale behind AquaTrace is to develop reliable and cost-effective molecular tools for the identification of the genetic origin of both wild and farmed fish (genetic traceability), as well as for the detection of interbreeding between farmed and wild stocks. This work will be carried out on three marine fishes of economic significance and with growing aquaculture activities, the European sea bass, gilthead sea bream and turbot. To address the expected magnitude of effects of interbreeding of farmed fish on wild conspecifics, the rationale is to use controlled experiments to examine links between key fitness and life-history differences and specific functional genetic differences at the DNA level between wild and farmed fish. Atlantic salmon and brown trout will be used as model species. AquaTrace is thus charged with scientific objectives relating to addressing and assessing the genetic impact of aquaculture escapees. Thus, such non-indigenous fish can potentially introduce genes to wild populations that have been undergoing adaptation to farmed conditions through breeding and domestication selection. Nonetheless, methods and aims also have implications for general knowledge on adaptation to local environmental conditions in wild populations, and thus also apply in a restocking context, e.g., when locally depleted wild populations are stocked with non-native strains that potentially are mal-adapted to local conditions. It is further essential that the tools developed are validated to internationally recognized forensic standards to allow uptake by end-users. The application of tools for monitoring and mitigation must be seen as being supportive to the industry. It represents one of the many approaches that should be used to secure growth, economic prosperity and social acceptance. Similarly, traceability of products has become a specific request of consumers, sustained by national and European policies. Here, genetic tools offer cost-effective strategies for supporting quality plans, enforceable by law where required, aimed at tracing and monitoring the origin of aquaculture products.



The project will develop SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) genetic markers for the marine species and apply these markers to baseline samples of wild and aquaculture fish. Subsequently, small, specific and cost effective, SNP panels, consisting of minimum numbers of markers with maximum statistical power for determining the origin of the fish, will be developed as end-user traceability tools. Already developed large SNP panels for salmon and trout will be applied to these species maintained in under controlled experimental conditions, allowing identification of the genetic background of the fitness effects of domestication and interbreeding.


What is the European Added Value?

This project addresses the common challenge of Europe to develop sustainable aquaculture through improved competitiveness and environmentally-friendly production. As the potential adverse effects of aquaculture's escapees or releases are expected to affect all Member States, international collaboration is the only option. This project benefits from the collective cutting-edge expertise and infrastructure of research institutions and aquaculture industry across Europe. The outcome of the project will be made available through a common database allowing researchers, the industry, policy makers and the European consumer a long term benefit. Overall the project will support the development of sustainable European aquaculture and contribute to achievement of the "Good Environmental Status" (GES) as requested under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.


An FP7 research project

Start date November 2012
Duration 48 months
EU contribution 2,999,185 €
Number of partners 22 (for details see partners)
Work packages 13

The project is funded by the 7th Framework Programme for research (FP7) under "Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy - KBBE", Theme 2: "Food, Agriculture and fisheries, and Biotechnologies"
Project identifier: FP7-KBBE-2012-6-singlestage
Grant agreement no.: 311920
Funding scheme: collaborative project.