Genomics Tools for Sustainable Fisheries

Scientists at Plant & Food Research have assembled the first genomic resources for hoki. The work was contracted by owners of hoki quota, who wish to ensure the sustainable management of our hoki fisheries continues to be supported by the best available scientific information.

Hoki, a taonga species, form our largest commercial fishery, annually contributing over $230 million to the economy. Hoki was also the first New Zealand species to obtain Marine Stewardship Council certification.

Ensuring the security of seafood in our future diets requires utilising the best scientific tools and knowledge available. While the use of genomics technologies has advanced rapidly in many fields, the routine uptake of these tools to inform management in fisheries and aquaculture has been relatively slow.

The new genome assembly results will provide a valuable resource to manage hoki stocks in future, enabling essential insights into stock structure in this large and valuable renewable resource.

“The stock structure of marine fish species is traditionally difficult to capture, particularly for deepwater species like hoki that are widely dispersed throughout New Zealand waters. Being able to identify separate fish stocks and monitor their population diversity and connectivity using genomic insight is critical for managing sustainable fisheries,” said Dr Maren Wellenreuther, Science Group Leader at Plant & Food Research.

Aside from monitoring stock structure, genomics technologies provide a low-cost way to address a spectrum of needs in fisheries, aquaculture and marine biosecurity.  In addition to enabling monitoring of over-fishing, genomics can aid the traceability essential for sustainable management and provide an increasingly important credential for overseas export markets. Genomic resources can also benefit breeding, disease resistance and biosecurity for aquaculture industries.

“This work contributes to the long-term sustainability of hoki, which is a taonga. It also gives careful consideration to how the sustainable use of hoki is managed through genomic research,” commented Te Taiawatea Moko-Mead, Tai Moana (Senior Policy Advisor) at Te Ohu Kaimona.

“We view this research as a stepping-stone towards better understanding the impacts of those interactions. Critical to this is researchers working in partnership with Māori. Co-developing an inclusive and transparent process, so that Māori and kaitiaki can manage the genetic data of our taonga.”

This study is the first to use genomic technologies to assess stock structure in hoki. The genomic data clearly shows that hoki from Tasmania are different from hoki around New Zealand, indicating that the Australian stock is different from the New Zealand hoki. The findings of this study also challenge the traditional two-stock model for hoki in New Zealand and concludes that New Zealand’s hoki represent one genetically mixed cluster. The scientists also found that hoki across New Zealand hold some locally adapted genomic regions, conveying a possible fitness advantage.

“This is exciting and important work by Plant & Food Research, and shows the power of genomic technologies to inform fisheries stock management,” said George Clement, CEO of the Deepwater Group.

“The results clearly establish that there is distinct genetic difference between hoki within AU and New Zealand waters, and they also indicate further work will be required to better understand the genetic makeup of hoki within New Zealand waters.”

Te Ohu Kaimoana provided advice on a process to manage the gathering, storage, access and use of genetic data. Research funding was provided by Seafood Innovations Ltd and the Deepwater Group.