authenticating wild fishI was privileged to attend this year’s AOAC Europe meeting with the wonderfully titled theme: Food Labs in a Crystal Ball (link to program), it was another great event and was summarized recently in Food Quality News.

The highlight for me, as it covered my interest area of trace metal analysis, was a presentation by Dr Belinda Flem from the Geological Survey of Norway, titled: In situ trace element analysis of fish scales. This fascinating talk discussed how the Norwegian salmon fishing industry are keen to track and monitor the fish to determine whether it is wild or ocean farmed. (In case, you did not get my reference to Nemo in the title of this post, it refers to a very popular children’s movie of the same name that featured a lost nemo fish in the Indian Ocean.)


Origin and Authenticity of Salmon

The origin and authenticity of salmon is not just extremely important for economic and genetic reasons but also for monitoring the potential risk of the fish transporting diseases and parasites. Dr Flem’s research to meet this requirement is centered on the trace element profiles of the fish scales.

The researchers can pinpoint the origin and location of the fish over time due to fish scales having a defined history ring structure (just like tree rings) as you see in the image below. By analyzing the trace elements of individual rings with high resolution ICP-MS, the researchers have further found distinct differential patterns between farmed and wild salmon from different regions, thus making it a viable method for consideration.


Fish Scales Under the Microscope


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The technique, methods and results are described beautifully in their published research article, Trace element analysis of scales from four populations of Norwegian Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) for stock identification using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (link to article).


Testing for Environmental Pollutants in Fish

I do know of other uses for high-resolution ICP-MS in fish analysis; it has been used when looking for environmental pollutants such as Simultaneous Mercury and Tin Speciation using GC-HR-ICP-MS (link to downloadable PDF) but this story is why I love this business.

I am never surprised when I learn something new and find an interesting use for our analytical chemistry instruments in the food industry and I look forward to Dr Flem’s upcoming publication on fish authenticity testing.

Additional Resources

Do check out our Food Community which is a wonderful resource that is totally dedicated to our Food and Beverage customers and features the latest on-demand webinars, videos, application notes, and more.


Is trace metal analysis and/or speciation of interest to your laboratory? If so I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences.