What can genetics do for fisheries and aquaculture?

Take part in ICES new training course to discover how genetics can address existing management and policy needs from capture and aquaculture fisheries.
Published: 8 May 2019

​​​​​​​For the first time, ICES Training Programme offers 3-day course on genetics in support of fisheries and aquaculture management​. The course takes place 17-19 September at the Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve in Faro, Portugal.

Gary Carvalho, a member of ICES Working Group on Application of Genetics in Fisheries and Aquaculture (WGAGFA) and one of the course instructors, gives an overview of the topic and its importance. 

What is the course about? How does genetics support fisheries and aquaculture management?

Applications of genetics and genomics to aquatic resource management is a topical and rapidly growing field of life sciences, and is possibly most familiar through its high profile application in human medicine and disease. The progressive deciphering of our own genomes enables a more targeted approach to tackling diseases and developing therapies, especially those shown to have a strong inherited or genetic component. In the field of fisheries and aquaculture, genetics is already enabling new genomic approaches to tackling key challenges relating to sustainable exploitation, food security, welfare, and governance of our oceans.

There are two primary levels that genetics have particular application: the first is to provide a source of tools that can be used to designate and monitor individuals, populations/stocks, species and communities, together with elucidating associated biological interactions such as the nature and intensity of predation. The fact that DNA can be retrieved from whole fish through to highly processed products means that it is possible to trace products and individuals accurately. Such features, for example enable more effective design of pedigrees in aquaculture, the selection of favourable traits, as well as assigning individuals, stocks and species with unprecedented precision for use in applications from stock assessment through to tackling illegal fishing and promoting eco-certification.

The second is the rather more prosaic, but fundamental role that population diversity (“genetic resources”) plays in the resilience, response and recovery of exploited populations to environmental change. It is only through the judicious identification and monitoring of population units or biological stocks, especially those features determined genetically, that it becomes possible to develop strategies to maximize and conserve genetic resources for adaptation to environmental change. Prominent applications of such thinking include, the identification of species and stock entities for assessment and monitoring purposes, the shift and decline of fish populations due to climate change and overharvesting, impacts of farmed species on wild conspecifics, optimal designs for captive propagation and stock enhancement, and the achievement of management goals such as Maximum Sustainable Yield, to name just a few.

Despite recognition that such approaches can provide valuable support to the development and implementation of management and conservation strategies, the effective integration of genetic and genomic approaches into fisheries and aquaculture management is patchy, sometimes ineffectual, and underdeveloped. The course aims to narrow the science–policy divide by focusing on the need to render such applications more responsive and relevant to management needs, as supported by recent conceptual and technical advances, and these will be placed within the context of salient policy frameworks.

Who should participate?

The course is designed to target a broad community, including those with some experience in genetics/genomics, as well as those who are less familiar. Importantly, the training strategy will be highly interactive, thereby benefiting from a diversity of experience and expertise. We aim at people with a keen interest in how and when to apply evolutionary and genetic principles and tools to management issues, within the context of sustainability. We target students, fisheries/aquaculture scientists, fisheries/aquaculture managers and stakeholders involved in fisheries genetics and those more directly engaged in aquaculture management and policy decision-making. Strategies to facilitate impact and uptake of available knowledge and tools will be prioritized.

What will the participants learn?

The course will comprise a mix of informal seminars, discussion groups and some hands on analysis and interpretation of data sets. Activities will be based on a series of topical policy-driven questions, encompassing a consideration of, but not restricted to,  introductory concepts in fisheries and aquaculture genomics, a consideration of stock structure identification and dynamics, the genetics of farmed seafood to enhance aquaculture, population abundance estimates, integration of genomics with established quantitative fisheries science and modelling, traceability, genomics for monitoring control and enforcement, and an introduction to population genomic analysis. Strategies of for promoting integration of approaches, including the role of reference data bases, standardization, maximizing cost-effectiveness and accessibility to outputs, the deployment of devices in the field, and setting clear relevant targets, through illustrative case studies, will enhance understanding and relevance.

Why is this course important?

Acquiring skills in the application of genetics to fisheries and aquaculture is increasingly important for both practical and strategic reasons. Practically, applications are especially amenable to high-throughput analysis, standardization of global databases, and increased cost-effectiveness, as well as integration with existing approaches in management, such as population and oceanographic modelling, demographic data and use of tagging and satellite- based monitoring. Strategically, the close association and interdependence of shifts in the abundance and distribution of aquatic resources (quantitative change) and genetic structure (qualitative change) means that core fisheries data such as population size, distribution of age classes, dispersal and recruitment, will in many cases be population or stock-specific. Capturing such heterogeneity, and promoting linkages between existing management and biologically defined units, is central to our efforts in both predicting as well as conserving aquatic species and communities in the face of environmental change.


The course has five instructors: Gary Carvalho (Bangor University, UK), Jann Martinsohn and Ernesto Jardim (Joint Research Centre, European Commission​), Einar Eg Nielsen (DTU Aqua, Denmark), and Kerry Naish (University of Washington, USA). They are ready to demonstrate the principles and practical application of genetics in fisheries and aquaculture and explore case studies that illustrate how genetics can help to address existing management and policy needs from capture and aquaculture fisheries.

This course takes place 17–19 September 2019 in the Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Portugal. 

​ICES Working Group on Application of Genetics in Fisheries and Aquaculture (WGAGFA) promotes the inclusion of genetics and evolutionary concepts and methods as important elements in the management of fisheries and aquaculture.
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What can genetics do for fisheries and aquaculture?

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