Environmental DNA (eDNA) Monitoring

Molecular tools for reconstructing target and by-product catch composition of fisheries vessels


CSIRO Fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) team are developing a suite of molecular tools aimed at improving monitoring of fishery landings. The team are currently undertaking a pilot project to assess if genetic methods can be used to forensically identify the species stored inside fish holds of vessels. The MCS team plan to develop and deploy this DNA monitoring approach as a complimentary method to traditional fisheries surveillance and monitoring procedures, particularly for protected or quota species.

How it works:

Organisms continually shed DNA into the environment, from skin, mucous, faeces, and a variety of other tissues, this DNA has been termed environmental DNA, or eDNA. By sampling a small volume of water or ice from fish holds on-board fishing vessels our team can use eDNA to reconstruct the species stored in the vessel. The same method may also be applied as a proxy for biomass. These samples represent the animals that have been in the hold since it was last emptied, providing a time-integrated record of species catch and transport

Under the pilot project, the MCS team is developing a best practise guide for eDNA monitoring aimed at

  1. Establishing simple sample collection methods that can be used onboard a variety of vessels with fish holds
  2. Optimising genetic markers for robust species identification
  3. Testing the accuracy of reconstructing logbooks or observer records including relative abundance of catch
  4. Evaluating the effectiveness of eDNA as a tool for monitoring catch or identifying unauthorized/ unreported catches


This project aims to create a cost-effective, reliable and quantitative method for monitoring and reconstructing fisheries catches. The universality of DNA means this method can be applied to a variety of fisheries at a global scale for routine monitoring and targeted inspection.

Please contact the MCS team at CSIRO if you are interested in piloting our eDNA monitoring procedure and how it can be tailored for the needs of your organisation.


Download the project fact sheet here