In the Pacific, adoption of seafood traceability technology faces hurdles at multiple stages of the supply chain.
Records frequently start on paper, which can be lost or damaged. Internet coverage is often spotty. Tags with QR codes have to be durable in harsh ocean conditions. Customs and habits are hard to change. And by the time the product is ready for the market, not everyone actually wants fully traced and transparent fish.
The Fiji-based traceability company TraSeable has piloted its blockchain technology in the region, and says about a half-dozen companies are using it, with some 50,000 fish tracked so far. But implementing end-to-end traceability – and convincing companies to sign on for it – is taking time.
"You're talking about the Pacific Ocean, where the boats are at sea and they don't have internet connections and can't send out data in real-time," TraSeable Founder and Managing Director Kenneth Katafono told SeafoodSource. "It's still going to be a while before people start recording on a tablet and stop using paper."
TraSeable offers a tablet-based application that allows fishermen on boats and regulators on shore to input data directly into the system. All the players in the supply chain need to be connected to TraSeable's system, including the fishing companies and the processors, who can onboard their clients. The software is also designed so regulatory authorities can connect and use it to provide third-party verification. Customers can opt to pay extra for TraSeable’s blockchain feature, which is built on the Ethereum platform.
"The companies that we work with, I think they think blockchain will revolutionize supply chains. They're thinking of that aspect and trying to get ahead and adopt early," Katafono said. Some might seek to use it as a marketing point.
Starting in 2017, TraSeable was part of a tuna-tracking pilot project with the World Wildlife Fund, blockchain company ConsenSys, and Sea Quest Fiji – a seafood company – the first project of its kind in the Pacific.
The project demonstrated blockchain’s potential for the region, but Katafono quickly realized that the enterprise-level systems ConsenSys offered would be too expensive for fishermen and seafood companies in the region. So he built a blockchain integration on top of his company’s existing digital traceability system.
"The whole idea was to make traceability affordable, because if it's not affordable, seafood operators aren't going to pay for it, unless it's regulated,” Katafono said.
Sea Quest has piloted TraSeable’s technology, achieving proof of concept, and has implemented it in the factory. The company has conducted about five trials with a customer in Europe, where demand is higher than in the United States. Sea Quest expects to start sending blockchain-tracked shipments to them in the coming year, according to Sea Quest CEO Uttam Kumar.
"European customers are very anxious and eager to receive traceable and tagged fish, but we have yet to see that kind of thing happening in the U.S.," Kumar told SeafoodSource.
Improving traceability is a long process that requires convincing workers at each stage of the supply chain to follow new protocols – a tough sell when monetary incentives are lacking.
"To get to this stage has been a lot of goodwill from the guys on the boats who are prepared to do this extra work," Sea Quest Owner Brett “Blu” Haywood told SeafoodSource. "We're in a transitional period where we're going from the old, what was done in the last 20 or 30 years with a pen or a pencil to now digitally entering the catch reports … This is all a change of mindset for fishermen."
The simplicity of the tablet-based application helps, with easy data entry for fish type, estimated weight, and other factors.
"All this information goes into the tag and is captured at the point of landing," Haywood said.
Haywood believes that blockchain technology will help squeeze out the bad actors. Producers will be able to record on the blockchain the boat, the captain, and even a photo of the freshly-caught fish on the blockchain – giving each fish a story.
Blockchain technology offers the potential for a world where data is not tied to a particular computer server and anyone can access the immutable record of transparent information. Such radical transparency might not suit some players in the seafood supply chain, while other companies already embrace it, according to Katafono.
But at the global level, blockchain technology is now hampered by its own overabundance. The many existing protocols can’t communicate with each other, and TraSeable’s Katafono thinks it’s out of the question for global businesses to narrow on just one protocol. Instead, emerging standards will need to govern how different systems communicate with each other, achieving what technology experts call interoperability – a process that will take years.
"The product data will be more transparent throughout the supply chain because that data is added to a blockchain that is publicly available," Katafono said. "That's where we see things moving. [But] it's still an emerging technology. There are still a lot of things that need to happen for it to gain traction in the supply chain world."
Photo couresy of Sashkin/Shutterstock
Records frequently start on paper, which can be lost or damaged. Internet coverage […]