Fish Fingerprint: Austral Fisheries and Source Certain Elevate Toothfish Provenance Verification

Fish Fingerprint: Austral Fisheries and Source Certain Elevate Toothfish Provenance Verification
December 07, 2020


For the past 12 months Austral Fisheries and Source Certain International have been working on a project funded by the Fisheries Resource & Development Corporation to evaluate the application of Source Certain’s TSW Trace® technology, to further verify the provenance of Patagonian toothfish caught near Heard Island.

The purpose of this pilot project was to determine whether provenance of Austral’s toothfish could be verified, which in turn may help lead to deterring counterfeit replications of their Glacier 51 Toothfish branded product.

In positive news, results from this project indicate that this is possible. The technology also demonstrates that it can have application more broadly; enabling the tracing of illegally caught fish to specific source locations, or fine scale population dynamics of fish stocks being better understood, thus delivering enhanced fishery management opportunities.

As part of the sampling program, the Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) fishery was broken down into 25 arbitrary zones whereby samples of flesh from toothfish that were caught across each of these zones were collected during the Glacier 51 filleting process at Catalano’s Seafoods in Perth (a total of 93 toothfish across the 25 zones).

Following this, Source Certain then used their TSW Trace® method to determine a chemical profile or ‘fingerprint’, where the toothfish flesh samples were subject to analysis, and a range of elements, isotopes and molecules determined. TSW Trace® classification models were then constructed that enable the assessment and assignment of provenance.

As the sampling zones were arbitrarily assigned, to evaluate the potential application of the profiling technology for provenance establishment, an iterative approach was taken to which zones could be classified, which zones grouped together, and which zones were not able to be discriminated from each other. When all zones were considered in their entirety and a TSW Trace® classification model was developed based around these, two zones were clearly discriminated from the rest. An iterative process was then employed to identify and discriminate further groups within the fishery. The outcome of this process was the identification of 6 definable groups within the fishery.

The project delivered all three objectives that were set out, demonstrating the following:

             1. A TSW Trace® profile can be determined for Patagonian Toothfish.

2. This profile can be determined from any light-coloured flesh sample and is not limited to specific parts of the fish.

3. The profiling technology can be successfully used to assign or determine Patagonian Toothfish provenance. Data from the HIMI fishery can be broken down into six clear zones (discrete provenance locations), with a further four possible within one of these zones.


Austral Fisheries believes these findings are important to industry as they demonstrate that within market testing of substituted toothfish or products carrying a counterfeit brand is possible.  The results also show there is widespread benefit for the rest of the toothfish industry, which in the past has had significant issues with illegal fishing and product mixing within the end marketplace. The research potential may also benefit fisheries managers and scientists in understanding where Illegal, unregulated, unreported or substituted toothfish may have been caught. It may also help those same fisheries managers and scientists in better understanding population dynamics at finer scales.

This project was supported by funding from the FRDC on behalf of the Australian Government.

More information on Source Certain can be found here.