Like every profitable industry, fishing has its share of fraudsters. Maybe more than its fair share. When the nonprofit Oceana tested a random selection not long ago, they found that one third of their samples were mislabeled.
That’s why two Florida scientists have developed a handheld sensor to genetically test for grouper, one of the most fraud-prone fish types. The device, called the QuadPyre RT-NASBA, a should help wholesalers and restaurants tell the difference between expensive fish and cast-offs that are really Asian catfish.
Bob Ulrich, a researcher at the University of South Florida, and his team chose grouper because it’s an “iconic” fish in Florida. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows 64 types of fish to be labeled grouper, it has a high chance of being mislabeled. The machine purifies a fish tissue sample and then examines its RNA with a simple fluorescence test to detect whether it’s grouper or a fake.
The device is being developed by PureMolecular and will go on sale by the end of the year. The price will be about $2,000. The company is also developing similar sensors for tuna, snapper, and shrimp.
The FDA does some of its own testing, but can only test about 0.2% of the total U.S. catch. Its DNA sequencing method also takes days to complete; the QuadPyre gives a result in about 45 minutes.
PureMolecular is now looking for beta testers and its first customers. “We are still feeling out our potential markets, but we’ve been contacted by regulators and members of the seafood industry ranging from restaurateurs to wholesalers,” Ullrich says.