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Research Underway to Rapidly Reveal Fish Age

30 November 2012

AUSTRALIA - A new A$500,000 project will see food and fisheries scientists across Australia collaborating on world-first research that will help to rapidly estimate the age of fish.

Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Senior Fisheries Biologist, Dr Julie Robins, said Queensland researchers were the first in the world to apply near infra-red spectroscopy (NIRS) technology to determine the age of fish ear bones.

Dr Robins said an initial study on saddletail snapper demonstrated the technique was very efficient and the use of the technology would help tackle the problem of identifying the age of fish.

"Understanding the number and age of fish in a population is an important component in determining whether a fish stock is sustainably fished or not," Dr Robins said.

"The current research is focused on snapper in southern Australia and barramundi in northern Australia."

DAFF Principal Scientist, Brett Wedding said NIRS technology was routinely applied to many agricultural situations, from determining the protein content in wheat or the sugar content in fruit, to the oil content of avocados.

Determining the ageing of fish is common practice world-wide. The ear bones are removed from the head of fish, and samples are often provided by commercial or recreational fishers or seafood processors.

Traditional methods require the ear bones to be sliced very thinly, around 1/3 mm thick, and viewed under a microscope. Scientists estimate the age of fish based on the number of growth bands (similar to those in trees) in the sectioned bones. This is a labour-intensive process.

If applied successfully to other fish species, the use of NIRS technology will have global significance, as it has the potential to make the age-identification process more efficient and cost effective by reducing the time and resources required.

Funding for the A$500,000 project has been provided by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, and the Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australian, and South Australian Governments.

The project is due to be completed by March 2014.

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