What is the Biological Sampling?

Headshot photo It consists of collecting up several tissues on specimens (mostly fish) caught during observer trips, tuna tagging cruises or scientifc trips.
It is essential that these samples are collected properly in different regions and at different times. These samples can be as diverse as:

  • Stomach
  • Muscle
  • Liver
  • Gonad
  • Otolith
  • Spine
  • Blood
  • Fin

These samples are then used to run analysis:

  • Stomach to describe diet composition
  • Muscle, Liver and Blood used as natural tags (Isotope) and to analyse contaminants
  • Gonads used for reproduction biology studies
  • Otoliths to estimate age and growth of fish
  • Spines used for age validation
and these results are used for different scientific matters:
  • Ecosystem approach of fisheries management: Diet, micronekton
  • Support stock assessment with estimation of species’ biology: Reproductive biology, growth rate, stock boundaries
  • Scientific studies with implication in fisheries management: Contaminant

The overall aim is to improve our understanding of biology and ecology of tuna species for a better management of Pacific fisheries.

What is the Pacific Marine Specimen Tissue Bank?

Since 2001, SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) has been coordinating the collection of biological samples of pelagic species from all over the Pacific Islands region on behalf of its member countries. Initially, this collection was focussed on stomach, muscle and liver samples to understand the trophic structure of the pelagic ecosystem (i.e. who eats who, where, and when); however, this has expanded to include gonads (repro-ductive organs), otoliths (ear bones), spines and blood, giving the opportunity to study reproduction, age, growth and contaminant concentrations. The collection is ongoing thanks to the partnership with the fisheries observer programmes operating in the western and cen-tral Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

A group of experienced senior “at sea” observers and port samplers participate by collecting samples from each trip or unloading they participate in. Rather than collect numerous samples from a single trip or unload-ing, they collect samples from a small number of indi-viduals from each sampling session. This ensures that the sampling activity does not take too much time and that many more fishing trips and vessel unloadings are sampled to achieve OFP’s collection targets.

OFP aims to have approximately 2,000 fish sampled for each species in order to allow Pacific-wide studies to be undertaken. The ongoing status of the collection means that as some samples are withdrawn from the collection for scientific analyses others are deposited to maintain the collection for future analyses. The collection is also supplemented by scientific surveys that are undertaken by SPC and other organisations.

Presently, sampling activities are coordinated in the Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Samoa French Polynesia and Japan

How the collection is used?

The application of ecosystem-based management in the WCPO means that decisions are made by balancing positive and negative impacts of proposed actions on the ecosystem. To assist decision-makers with this balancing, the Specimen Tissue Bank (STB) has been used to analyse the trophic structure of the western Pacific in order to construct ecosystem models to explore the effects of fishing and environmental variations.

Assessing the status of tuna stocks is also reliant on the estimation of the species’ biology. The STB has recently been used to estimate the length-at-age relationship and reproductive biology of the albacore stock in the South Pacific. This was the first stock-wide analysis of these parameters for a tuna stock in the WCPO. Similar analy-ses are underway for bigeye tuna in the WCPO.

The French Institute for Research and Development is currently implementing a study to determine the origins of mercury and its accumulation and distribution in top predators, and is withdrawing muscle and blood sam-ples from the STB. Mercury levels are used to track tuna foraging habitats and tuna migration as well as revealing possible public health problems.

An important area that the STB will contribute to is the emerging application of fisheries forensics to assist with the validation of catch documentation, traceability and surveillance for illegal, unreported and unregulated fish-ing activities. Genetics, genomics, chemistry and foren-sics are becoming well-established tools for this purpose. They are also increasingly valuable tools for indirectly monitoring movement, stock structure and reproductive dynamics. Recent withdrawals from the STB have been used to examine movements and spawning locations in South Pacific albacore using elemental and isotope chemistry. Withdrawals have also recently been made to understand the genetic structure of albacore, skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tunas in the western Pacific.

Rules and Procedures Currently under revision

Rules for scientific researchers to access these samples for the purpose of scientific study.

  • Applications to access samples from the tissue bank must include:
    1. Applications should be addressed to the Executive Director, WCPFC Secretariat
    2. Project Name and Objectives
    3. WCPFC Scientific Committee Project Number or recommendation if these exist
    4. Specification of the samples to be withdrawn from the bank (number, type, species, any location/sex/date limits, etc.)
    5. The methods for processing and analyses
    6. Past contributions to the tissue bank by researcher or CCM
    7. Intended collaborations
    8. Timelines and intended outcomes and reporting

    Additional information may be requested from the researcher by the WCPFC Research Sub-Committee to assist with application approval.

  • It will be a requirement of the researcher or CCM to provide an annual report to the Executive Director, WCPFC Secretariat. This must include documentation of raw and analysed results, however this does not imply a requirement for this data to be publicly available. When data can be made publicly available a report to WCPFC’s Scientific Committee is required on progress of the study. The reports must follow WCPFC standards and must include method description and meta data. All data will become publicly available 5 years after WCPFC Secretariat determines the project analyses are complete or at WCPFC’s discretion.
  • The WCPFC Research Sub-Committee will give consideration to the sequencing of analyses such that those which involve the samples being destroyed or modified are undertaken last when approving applications. For example otolith weight and morphometric analyses may be prioritised before sectioning, which may be prioritised before chemical analyses.
  • Where the analyses involves the preparation of secondary products such as sectioned otoliths and histological slides these products are to be provided to the WCPFC at the completion of the study for future comparative reference and study.
  • Researchers or CCM’s must acknowledge the WCPFC tissue bank in any publication of results from the study undertaken.
  • The selection and approval of projects will be determined by the WCPFC Research Sub-Committee. This committee may meet within the margins of WCPFC meetings or electronically. This sub-committee will prepare and submit a summary of their decision on each project proposal to the WCFPC Executive Director for final approval. The project approval process will consider, inter alia, the following:
    1. Preferential access to the tissue bank will be given to researchers or WCPFC CCM’s who have contributed samples to the collection.
    2. Preferential access to the tissue bank will be given to collaborative projects with priority to those where the collaboration includes several WCPFC CCMs.
    3. Priority will be given to request that are part of the WCPFC Scientific Committee’s research and work plan and those projects whose spatial scale is regional in preference to local.
    4. Past participation with those who acknowledge the source of the samples and provide interim products as required above given priority.
  • Once approval for access to samples from the tissue bank has been provided by the WCPFC Research Sub-Committee the researcher/CCM will enter into a formal agreement with the Secretariat of the WCPFC that will specify access requirements, reporting and any data confidentiality that the WCPFC may require.
  • A reasonable fee may be charged for the cost associated with preparing the samples for shipping and cost recovery for freight or transport agent fees and freight (loss and damage) insurance. An additional fee will be charged to applications from organizations who are not associated with WCPFC CCMs. This fee will be based on the full cost recovery of the collection of samples requested. The total amount of this second fee that is collected in each year will be used to offset WCPFC’s costs of running the tissue bank in the following year.