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Traps & Triumphs of Developing Trace Technology

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,

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!

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