- Blog -


by Sara Lewis, Kate O'Rourke and Bubba Cook

Not so long ago, if you wanted to have a fish dinner, you might stroll to the nearby waterfront where fishermen would sell their catch of the day, or to your local fishmonger. Chances were, you knew where and how that fish was caught, and you had no doubt that the species you requested is what you received. Essentially, you knew the story of where that food came from.

If you want to have a fish dinner today, the good news is there are a lot more choices, but the bad news is it’s not as easy to know what you’re actually getting.

Today’s seafood market is global and progressively mobile, so it’s hard to know if the seafood you buy is from a particular geographic region, much less who caught it, or whether it was captured in an ethical or sustainable way. You might not even get the species you asked for!

With increasing reports of seafood fraud, human rights violations, and illegal fishing, there are more reasons than ever for governments to capture and use data to help manage seafood information that must also be shared with consumers to better understand where their seafood is from and how it was produced. Thus, the importance of a seafood product’s story has become incredibly important in today’s global and increasingly discerning marketplace.

Bait to Plate: Visualize the power of end-to-end traceability where electronic data is captured in and shared up the supply chain as the product continues its journey.

For the 4th Session of the 2020-2021 SAFET virtual conference, held on February 18th, 2021, SAFET teamed up with the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT) an initiative run by FishWise. SALT brought together seafood producing government officials, industry, and NGO partners to discuss how some countries are beginning to use a range of traceability technologies to capture data electronically and illuminate their supply chain. It also introduced the new global electronic traceability Principles to help governments and their counterparts achieve their goals.

The keynote speaker of the session, Sara Lewis, Traceability Division Director at FishWise, applauded the vast array of new traceability technologies and the surge in willingness by governments and industry to invest in and leverage technology for more transparent seafood supply chains. She shared the ubiquitous story within traceability of the need for clear guidance on how to use these tools in a way that is supportive of a comprehensive approach to traceability; one that realizes ecological, social, and economic benefits. To address this gap, over the past year Ms. Lewis, on behalf of SALT, convened a global consultative committee with 35 representatives from 18 countries to develop guidance on how to create or improve existing comprehensive electronic traceability programs. The result of this year-long process is the electronic traceability Principles released to the public on February 25, 2021. The Principles are supported by guidance on how to apply them through the Pathway to the Principles, which links existing resources, pulled from the global community of traceability, data and technology, policy and governance, and social responsibility.

Comprehensive Electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability Principles: Reach out to SALT for more information on the Principles or opportunities to apply them, SALT@fishwise.org.

Representatives from two seafood producing country governments, Indonesia and Thailand, and their partners joined this session to share traceability challenges faced in their respective regions, and on harnessing the power of the data within traceability systems to achieve interoperability and transparency, respectively.

Director General Artati Widiarti, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) oversees the Directorate of General Product Competitiveness. She is responsible for Indonesia's export sales of 5.2B USD annually. Director General Artati joined the discussion with Janti Djuari, Chairwoman of AP2HI that was moderated by Farid Maruf, Traceability Expert. Director General Artati and Ms. Djuari shared the traps and ultimate triumph of sharing information between the government and private sector’s seafood traceability systems. The successful data sharing between government and industry advanced the electronic catch documentation data beyond regulatory compliance and transformed it into a useful business tool.

Indonesia has strong commitments in implementing traceability and transparency in fisheries, especially for combating illegal, unreported and undocumented (IUU) fishing and strengthening competitiveness. In 2019, MMAF committed to an electronic logbook (eLogbook) application to digitally capture fisheries data, representing an important advancement from a paper-based catch documentation and traceability system. Today, Indonesia is home to the region's largest eLogbook system that is in 9,750+ vessels in 60 ports. The eLogbook system works in tandem with STELINA, Indonesia's national fish traceability system, to trace seafood from harvest to landing to market.

Figure Courtesy Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries: Traceability System Integration

The extensive catch data collected was critical for Fisheries regulatory review and reform in Indonesia. With these government information collection systems in place, Director General Artati and Ms. Janti began to work together to advance the integration of the government and industry system. Strong integration between industry and the government’s eLogbook and STELINA system were important to ensure that industry has access to high quality data collection, to ensure timely data collection, and to reduce the cost to business of meeting traceability requirements. The market demand for traceability must be considered in relation to the cost to industry. Further, the eLogbook and STELINA data integration meant stronger verification abilities for industry and government.

MMAF and the industry association, AP2HI, are committed to working through inefficiencies and operational challenges. That collaboration helped integrate their traceability systems into a program that was fully supportive of the government's program. It also leveraged the power of that shared information, such as supporting the MSC fisheries certification obtained by nine AP2HI member companies. Overall, tight integration between industry and government is in line with the Indonesian President’s agenda and the planned acceleration of national digital transformation. This was truly a triumph of technology, interoperability, and trust between government and industry. From the government perspective, the next challenge they face is getting wider participation due to the disparity in technology proficiencies and capabilities among actors in the region.

Speakers Top left to right: Farid Maruf, Traceability Expert, Janit Djuari, Chairwomen of AP2HI, and Director General Artati of the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries


Dr. Kanit, Director of the Royal Thai Government Department of Fisheries in Bangkok, joined Bradley Soule, Director of Intelligence and Co-founder of OceanMind in Oxford, United Kingdom for a discussion moderated by Fard Maruf, Traceability Expert in Jakarta. Thailand is a major seafood producing country; from local harvesting to importing fish from all over the world, Thai fisheries are a big business.

Foreign Flagged Vessels Landing in Thailand, Photo Courtesy of the Thai Department of Fisheries and OceanMind

As a signatory to the Agreement of Port States Measures (PSMA), Thailand is on the hook to make sure the fish coming through their ports are legal and sustainable. Verification that Thailand's seafood is free from IUU fishing creates inefficiencies, including the time it takes to check the data accompanying the seafood products and asking for more information if data is insufficient. This process can take a lot of time. But as Dr. Kanit pointed out, ensuring verification and transparency in the seafood supply chain comes with challenges, but they are doing the right thing to keep IUU-related products and other non-compliant products out of Thailand. By giving industry transparency into the process of what risks were identified, how they were analysed and rectified—without necessarily giving away any confidential data to the public— better purchasing decisions can be made. It helps to instil a culture of compliance where industry is buying products they know have been validated. And retailers can state with confidence the authenticity and origin of their products. That is where the partnership with OceanMind enters.

Bradley Soule noted that Thailand is a great example for the rest of the world. Their significant contribution and implementation of PSMA is not only an example for governments on how to do this, but also a source of confidence for the private sector to have in the process. One major technical challenge of traceability systems is ensuring compliance. OceanMind was created to address this difficult task and make it easier to identify IUU fishing for governments around the world. OceanMind created risk analysis tools in coordination with the Thai government using techniques including machine learning, automated track analysis comparisons of licences, and regional fisheries management organizations authorizations around the world. These technologies have been integrated into Thailand's existing systems to make it as easy as possible for a mid-level government official to access the risks. The core of the work is enabling governments to take advantage of technologies and traceability efforts from around the world. As part of implementing this new technology and process, Dr. Kanit noted the increasing number of containers coming into Thailand and how, through this system, they have rejected containers that held tuna coming from an area without a permit to catch tuna.

Because PSMA is designed to address the validation of fisheries legality, many see compliance also incorporating social elements. There is an opportunity in the future for governments to consider how the different agencies, such as the Ministry of Fisheries and Ministry of Labor, work together to implement the human element at the same time as the fisheries element. The difficulty going forward is fully aligning government ministries, and to put all those verifications and all those processes into single IT systems. Because if you can't align your policy, it's hard to align a technology system.

Speakers top left to right: Farid Maruf, Traceability Expert, Dr. Kanit, Director of the Royal Thai Government Department of Fisheries in Bangkok, Bradley Soule, Director of Intelligence and Co-founder of OceanMind


Breakout sessions during the event provided an extremely dynamic discussion facilitated by various online technology collaboration tools such as Miro. Feedback following the event marked the breakout groups as a highlight, allowing for direct engagement by stakeholders in a more focused and intimate setting. And last, but not least, technology spotlight sessions were offered by a diverse group of companies including Fishcoin, LegitFish, Woods Hole Group, Chainparency, ThisFish, Cawilai, OpenSC, and Avery Dennison. Many thanks to these folks for providing some great engagement with interested practitioners highlighting their products and services.

The webinar recording and slides may be found on the SAFET website. Don’t forget to register for the next SAFET virtual session on April 8th, 2021 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm GMT-7. We look forward to seeing you then!

More than four million commercial fishing vessels ply the world’s oceans, coastlines and waterways. Much attention has focused on the larger, industrial fleets due to their visibility, volume of catch, relative sophistication, and economic contribution in the global marketplace. Would it surprise you to know, however, that most fishing effort is conducted by ‘small-scale’ fishers, and that small-scale fisheries (SSF[1]) are responsible for more than half of the global capture fisheries landings in developing countries[2]? It’s true: SSF employ approximately 120 million people worldwide with some form of livelihood (at least half of them women) as well as providing local food security to hundreds of millions of people. But until the last decade or so, this sector was largely un-noticed and understudied.

(Credit: SSF Guidelines, FAO)

The stark realities of climate change, population growth, social inequity, food insecurity, and the importance of SSF to millions, if not billions, of people on this planet call for increased attention to SSF in global and national policy dialogues.

Given how important SSF are to a global human community heading towards 10 billion people, what are the key sustainability and socioeconomic challenges facing this sector, and how can emerging technologies support these valuable fishery activities and communities? That was the theme of the 3rd session of the 2020-21 SAFET virtual conference, held on December 17th, 2020. We heard from five speakers who are pioneering research and technology applications focused on improved understanding and management of SSF.

Our keynote speaker, Dr. John Virdin of Duke University, described SSF at a high level, noting that most SSF activities occur in the tropics (though not exclusively), that SSF data is often lacking or poorly understood, and that it’s challenging to compare SSFs across countries (or even regions) due to their highly variable nature. Dr. Virdin is working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WorldFish on a global assessment of SSF contributions to sustainable development goals using key indicators. Look for the full report, ‘Illuminating Hidden Harvests’, out by end of 2021. The digital revolution is making data collection of these indicators possible for researchers and fishery managers, and cost/accessibility are becoming less of a barrier. There’s now a greater wealth of information on SSF, and online communities are being established to share information about all aspects of SSF, including available technologies and other resources that can improve SSF outcomes (e.g., the new SSF Resource and Collaboration Hub).

Better spatial data on catch and effort in traditional fishing areas can legitimize fishers’ rights in situations where coastal development, industrial fleets, pollution, or other competing uses are threatening livelihoods. As one example, Dr. Alex Tilley of WorldFish described the development of a new program, PeskAAS, that captures near real-time data for the nearshore fisheries of Timor Leste. Previously, the government had little information about fishing activity. Dr. Tilley and his team worked directly with fishers to co-design a data collection tool that would be owned and generated by them that collect catch/effort data over space and time, which can also be shared with government for management purposes. Currently up to 10% of the fleet at 20 landing sites are involved with hopes of full coverage in a few years. Dr. Tilley emphasized the importance an inclusive design process built with strong local partnerships and transparency. This means ensuring that the systems/tools are affordable and open source. True to that goal, the data are available online for all to see.

Another example where technology applications are improving data for management was shared by Dr. Chris Cusack and Harlisa with EDF Oceans. The EDF team is working with stakeholders of Indonesia’s blue swimming crab fishery, a vitally important fishery employing ~300,000 people in the region. With thousands of vessels and only a paper trail on their activity, both the government and the fishers were blind to trends in catch or effort, which in time could result in an eventual crash and compromise their valuable export market.

Together with tech partners TeemFish and SnapIT, EDF is piloting a SmartPass system – cameras paired with machine learning to automatically identify and count fishing vessels (i.e., effort) that travel through coastal passages (e.g., harbor entrances). Local monitors are also piloting use of a smartphone app for catch data – Vericatch’s FisheriesApp.

The ‘smart’ camera system and the electronic catch data are providing the government a more accurate view of overall effort and catch volume. Preliminary results from the SmartPass system show a low error between human and algorithm estimates going in/out of the port. In the future, EDF envisions the system will be able to send vessel counts directly to managers over a wireless network, rather than having to process data on the cloud as currently happens. And in the future, this technology can offer multiple benefits for a variety of users and a range of geographies.

Another way that technology applications are improving SSF is the ability to integrate fishers’ traditional knowledge into the management process, and helping to build local community enterprises. A great example is the work being done in South Africa by Abalobi, which means ‘fisher’ in local isiXhosa language. Dr. Serge Raemakers described their process of first learning about the local traditional knowledge of a SSF and community, then co-designing the right tools for the specific challenges and bringing fisher knowledge into the decision-making process. Dr. Raemakers and his team have developed a range of interconnected mobile apps that allow fishers to record their catch, manage business logistics, and track revenue (figure).

They also have an app for monitoring fisheries for compliance or improvement projects. The value really comes with these apps being connected to a digital marketplace platform with transactional capabilities, so stakeholders can orchestrate orders, deal with logistics and compliance, and tell their story. Not only are these apps improving data collection for both fishers and managers, they are breaking down longstanding social and cultural barriers between fishing communities and their customers, who have historically been quite polarized.

Many thanks to our speakers, whose excellent presentations stimulated rich breakout conversations on a number of themes around SSF including labor issues, formalization of rights through licensing, increasing resilience to climate change (including integration with aquaculture as wild stocks dwindle), and bringing small-scale fishers into the global marketplace. The dialogues surfaced challenges, opportunities and connections that we hope will bear fruit for the SAFET community. One participant noted, ‘if knowledge is power, and data is knowledge…then more data will give SSF actors a voice at the decision-making table’.

Finally, technology spotlight sessions were offered by Vericatch, NavCast, FAME, Integrated Monitoring, Woods Hole Group, and Abalobi. Many thanks to these folks for providing great visuals and overviews of their products and services. If you are a tech provider who would like to offer a spotlight at our next session (traceability/supply chain), please let us know here!

The webinar recording and slides may be found on the SAFET website. Don’t forget to register for the next SAFET virtual session on February 18th, 2021 5-7:30pm PST (GMT-8). See you then!

[1] Artisanal, or small-scale fisheries, are traditional fisheries involving fishing households (as opposed to commercial companies), using relatively small amount to capital and energy, relatively small fishing vessels (if any), making short fishing trips, close to shore, and mainly for local consumption. (FAO Glossary definition) [2] FAO, 2018 – http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/I9540EN/

We are clearly living in the “digital age”. Everything we do, from our banking to our shopping as well as our workplace productivity, is either dependent on or enabled by digital technologies. Technologies like sensors, IoT, wireless communications and big data tools are all driving this evolution and as a result we have more powerful and diverse technologies at our fingertips today than at any point in history, and a confluence of information streams leading to oceans of data resources just waiting for analytical nets to be cast into them. We now have unprecedented potential to understand and influence the world around us.

While this evolution has reached the far corners of the globe, it has left fisheries in the shadows—fishers and management agencies continue to use a disjointed system of paper records, manual data entry, disconnected information silos, and archaic data analysis tools and methodologies, resulting in effectively inaccessible and unusable data. In a world where everyone—even fishers—carries a supercomputer in their pocket, it’s time for fisheries to move beyond paper and develop truly integrated strategies for managing fisheries information.

Achieving this objective was the subject of the most recent session of the Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies conference series: "What Has Your Data Done For You Lately?: Getting The Most From Integrated Fisheries Technologies In A Changing World." An all-star line-up of speakers included Dr Sara Maxwell of University of Washington, Dr Transform Aqorau of iTuna Intel and Pacific Catalyst, Dr Elliot Hazen of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Dr George Maynard of Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, and Dr Steve Martell of SeaState, Inc., presented on some of the most progressive efforts toward integrating fisheries technologies from around the world. Below are some of the highlights and themes from this recent session, including from the plenary and breakout sessions, which all emphasized how far we have come, but also how much further we need to go!

State of the Technology

Data systems have achieved a remarkable level of technical sophistication in data capture, storage, and analysis that is making data integration possible even in some of the most remote corners of the planet. For example, Dr Aqorau described an initiative to establish a fully automated “smart port” in Noro, Solomon Islands, where data systems from the vessel all the way through the processor will be fully integrated into a first of its kind facility for the Pacific tuna fisheries. Initiatives such as this demonstrate that technologies, especially data analysis tools and systems, are mature enough now to meet many of the objectives of securing fully integrated fisheries technology systems that make the most of available data.

But it is not enough to just collect data. We must consider the “back end” of the data stream—how that data gets used—from the outset when designing truly integrated systems that result in actionable knowledge. Interestingly, challenges expressed during all the discussion seemed more often than not to relate to cultural, procedural, and institutional challenges rather than technical ones.

Fostering Engagement and Participation

A tool is only as good as the willingness of people to accept and use that tool. In some contexts, fishers are willing to collect and share a wide array of information. In others, they seem reticent. Reasons for these positions range across issues such as lack of a clear benefit from collecting and sharing data, lack of assurances surrounding privacy, costs, concerns data won’t be used at all or will be used in ways that negatively impact their earnings, or the time and difficulty involved in actually collecting the data. Improving engagement and participation in the implementation of more integrated data systems will boil down to effectively addressing trust and incentives. One speaker noted that often the systems are designed for compliance purposes without considering the full scope of potential applications across multiple agency systems that could derive real value from the information, such as for economic analysis that would benefit the fishing fleet and managers and seafood markets, which are playing an increasingly influential role in driving the uptake of integrated digital data systems.

There will be increasingly more constraints on the fishing industry due to a more crowded ocean, including restrictions on whale interactions, expansion of Marine Protected Areas, establishment of wind/wave energy farms, aquaculture. Fisher-collected data included in a fully integrated system could help fully inform decision-making processes to ensure productive fishing grounds are maintained and competing uses are better managed, thereby creating a valuable incentive for fishers to engage in more and better data collection and sharing.

Data Sharing and Ownership

Participants identified the biggest challenges to increasing data integration and use as the lack of interoperability between data systems, inconsistency in methods and metadata for data capture and storage, a lack of faith in the veracity and validity of data, and the layers of bureaucracy often required to gain access. A lack of trust between data stakeholders is further exacerbated by data ownership and storage rules that often seem draconian or obtuse between one or more of the responsible parties. In some cases, legal or regulatory requirements lead to the confounding result of preventing fishers from being able to access data they collect on their own vessel!

Participants discussed a range of models for data ownership and management, including contractual arrangements among private parties in a cooperative structure and traditional top down management as part of government programs. One clear theme came through that, regardless of the context, very clear agreements need to be in place to ensure that data is used or shared consistent with an agreed set of standards and objectives that are well understood by all parties.

In the end, technology has a key role to play in data verification and validation, acknowledging that data quality for fisher-collected data can be a concern. Participants highlighted how new tools like Electronic Monitoring (EM) can help validate fisher-collected data and provide a feedback mechanism to crew collecting that data. However, that information is not useful if it is not provided in a format that is standardized, interoperable, and, ultimately, sharable. There are some efforts underway to improve data interoperability, including the FLUX TL Protocol in the EU and regional efforts toward data standardization, but more needs to be done to ensure the utility of data is maximized.

THANK YOU to all our speakers, and all of those who attended. The full plenary and speaker presentations can be found here.

Don't miss the next session! December 17th 6:00-8:00am PST (GMT -8)

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