From bait to plate

Fish. It has been a food staple for centuries and global consumption continues to grow, with Agfunder predicting the aquaculture industry will be worth $219.42 billion by 2022. Global consumption of farmed fish now exceeds consumption of wild-caught and forecasts expect the industry to continue to grow.

Yet, aquaculture can also be fishy business… in more ways than the obvious. Over the years, the industry has become prone to misinformation and often suffers from a poor reputation as a result.

Seafood has always been integral for both economic security and food supply in some of the poorest countries, and continues to grow in popularity in the Western diet. On average, the amount of fish people eat has doubled over the last fifty years and as a rich source of omega-3 and protein, it remains an important addition to any plate.

As the sector grows rapidly, the length and complexity of supply chains have increased, as have the challenges that ensue as a result. According to FishWise, there are many risks associated with the industry such as fraud, healthand safety, not to mention the the prominence of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) activity.

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In 2017, UCLA released a study that conducted DNA testing on fish ordered from several LA restaurants over a four-year period. They found that 47 per cent of the fish received was not what it claimed to be on the menu. Also, due to the convoluted nature of the supply chain and lack of traceability, the researchers could not determine at which point the mislabelling actually occurred. Other studies released by the non-profit group Oceana have found that about a third of the seafood sold in America, and 20 per cent worldwide, is consistently and intentionally labelled incorrectly.

Implications of mislabelling and misinformation

This lack of transparency and traceability leads to three key aspects of concern:

Our health and safety

Consumers are misinformed on both what they are eating and paying for. The UCLA study found mislabelling occurred most often to disguise cheaper products as their expensive counterparts. If consumers do not know what they are eating, it puts their health as risk. Compliance to food safety standards throughout the ‘cold’ chain is also incredibly important as seafood is more prone to contamination if not properly handled, yet there is a lack of substantial information to ensure this.

Environmental damage

Our oceans are finite resources that businesses, NGOs and government organisations have made great efforts to protect through policy and regulations. However, illegal fishing and over-fishing continue to compromise aquatic ecosystems and put further strains on threatened species. Over-fishing by large trawlers also impacts the amount of fish available for coastal communities, many of whom rely greatly on fishing for employment.

Exploitative working conditions

There have been a number of reports of illegal trafficking and human slavery on fishing boats. There are high incidences of bribery, corruption and targeted hacking as licensing laws are undermined and crew working conditions are not met, putting their safety at risk.

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Where agtech steps in

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji conducted a pilot project in collaboration with tech companies ConsenSys, TraSeable and fishing company Sea Quest Fiji Ltd. The project combines IoT and blockchain technology to trace tuna throughout the entire supply chain. They aim to use radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and QR codes to collect data that will be recorded on the blockchain. This will create a decentralised, verifiable and public database of when and where the fish have been from the second it is caught to when it lands in the consumers hands.

Capturing this data means that any detail about the movements of the fish are recorded along the supply chain, as well as the conditions in which they are kept, holding each stakeholder more accountable. It also offers wider benefits; creating immediacy of transactions between suppliers and buyers — creating a win win scenario.

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Provenance software in use during their pilot program tracing yellowfin and slipjack tuna fish in Indonesia.

Another group named Provenance also conducted a six-month pilot using mobile phones, blockchain and unique IDs to track the progression of the yellowfin and slipjack tuna through the South East Asian fishing industry. The pilot required local fishermen to simply text message to register their business and catch, which were verified against NGO databases. The pilot successfully tracked the socially and environmentally responsibly caught fish down the supply chain and ensured the immediate transfer of this data all the way to the consumer.

These pilot programs exemplify the commercial application of blockchain technology to securely transfer assets and data throughout agri-commodity supply chains. By combining tracking and blockchain technology to improve traceability addresses the challenges largely affecting the industry. Its great to see application of blockchain in other agricultural industries. Similar to our work at AgriDigital, we hope to see the technology move forward to alleviate the major pain points felt by producers all the way to consumers and create more transparent and efficient systems.