Forensic fisheries scientist Courtney Cox makes waves in Belize

Bruno lab PhD student Courtney Cox was all over the news in Belize Tuesday.  There was a media frenzy about her work on fraud in the the Belize seafood industry and the poaching of parrotfish in Belize waters, where they are now protected.

From News7Belize:

In this coastal country – it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like Snapper or Grouper – and those prized fish are even more delectable when they are filleted.But there’s a thing about that filet business – which is always a little suspect. The filet is the boneless part of the fish – but because it’s been sliced up – you can’t see the skin, the head or any of the identifying features.

Well, a researcher from [The University of North Carolina] who’s doing her Doctoral thesis in Belize performed DNA testing on 150 pieces of what is sold as Grouper or Snapper filet – and guess what she found? None of it was snapper! Courtney Cox discussed her surprising findings:

Courtney Cox, researcher
“I have access and analyze over 150 fillet samples from all throughout Belize and which were all sold to me as snapper or grouper and I have not found one snapper through genetic analysis. I found a few grouper but no snappers.”

Cox bought her fish at open and closed fish markets, as well as supermarkets and stores. But she wasn’t doing consumer research – she was trying to find out if parrotfish is still being sold as filet. In May of 2009, Belize signed unto a ban against harvesting the parrotfish and Cox has been visiting for the past three years to monitor parrotfish populations and their prevalence on the market.

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