3p Traceability Week: Q&A with Flip Labs on Seafood Traceability

Join Triple Pundit and a panel of experts for 3p Traceability Week to discuss traceability in four controversial arenas — seafood, fashion, minerals and medical marijuana.  Ask your questions in the comments section, and follow along hereThe Q&A closes on Tuesday, September 16. 

2836470601_80e8ea39c0_zFact: More than one-third of the seafood sold in North America is mislabeled, by either type of fish, catch method or provenance. And upwards of 24 million tons of seafood is caught and sold illegally every year.

Traceability is a hot-button issue in all supply chains, but when it comes to the food we eat, these figures become even more unsettling. As Cheryl Dahle, founder of Future of Fish and CEO of Flip Labs, noted in a recent op/ed on Triple Pundit: “Beyond what that deception may mean for your health, it is also a window to other more systemic challenges, including pirate fishing, human trafficking, and widespread fraud and corruption.”

She went on to explain that these problems can’t be addressed by a few consumers making the choice to “eat local.” “We need to rebuild the systems and behaviors of the global interconnected brokers, corporations and governments that touch your food before it hits your plate,” she wrote.

To accomplish this, stakeholders in the seafood industry have come together to compile verified data on where and how a fish is caught. Regulators already require any seafood caught or sold in the U.S. to provide documentation of where, when and how it was caught. But, as 3p correspondent Lauren Zanolli pointed out, that information is still often filed on paper forms, and there is no way of knowing if it will follow the right piece of seafood through the supply chain. So, naturally, some questions remain about how to improve traceability in seafood supply chains.

As part of 3p Traceability Week, Cheryl Dahle of  Flip Labs will be on-hand all week to answer your questions about seafood traceability. Respond with your questions in the comments section below!

To get the conversation started, we have a few questions of our own:

  1. What are the biggest barriers you face in creating end-to-end traceability in the seafood industry?
  2. How has technology changed the game in terms of monitoring inventory? What technology do you think is most promising for offering an end-to-end solution?
  3. Imagining that every business at every step of the seafood supply chain has technology in place to monitor their stock in and out; what else is needed to achieve whole-chain traceability?
  4. What strategies or initiatives have been useful in making progress towards better traceability in the seafood industry? Are there any examples or initiatives you can point to that have had some success?

Check the comments section below for Cheryl’s answers to our questions, and don’t forget to ask your own! The Q&A closes on Tuesday, September 16. 

Image credit: Flickr/good_day

Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian with an interest in climate resilience, clean tech and social justice. You can contact her at mary@triplepundit.com.

14 responses

  1. 1) Cultural issues top the list of barriers. That includes both general resistance to technology as well as the predictable internal resistance within any company to big change. Implementing new technology means re-designing processes, changing the way people’s jobs work and the way companies do business. All of that takes time to accomplish and leadership to implement. These issues are particularly stark in an industry where there are few tech executives at mid-size and even some larger companies.

  2. 1) Other barriers include the costs of technology itself. The seafood industry is one with slim margins and an unclear future, due in part to overfishing. It can be difficult for companies to cash-fund, or get loans to put this technology in place. Couple that with scant proof of ROI, and you’ve got a lot of reasons to NOT invest in tech solutions. We examined some of the business case for these technologies in our traceability report here: http://futureoffish.org/resources/research-reports/getting-there-here

      1. I think there could be government funding, particularly allocated to a project that would fund the development of the patches between all these software platforms, many of which serve just one level of the supply chain. Future of Fish is convening a group of entrepreneurs and industry leaders on this topic soon.

        I think money could also come from foundations interested in marine conservation. The bottom line is that if we ask individual companies to bear the load of systemic barriers, we’re not going anywhere fast.

  3. 2) For companies that ARE implementing better technology, the gains both in marketing wins and operational efficiencies can be enormous. If you have better data, you can tell the story of a fish and highlight the the things consumers care about: freshness, quality, provenance, *and* environmental friendliness — pretty much in that order. Better tracking data can also deliver a longer shelf life (making sure that the first fish into a processing facility are the first ones cut and sent out), real-time cash flow snapshots (so buyers know walking into an auction if they are winning or losing for the month, and substantial reduction in overtime costs.

    1. Cheryl we agree with you on the importance of data intergration.

      This is because iImplementing end-to-end traceability can range from straight forward, to complicated. This depends on several factors, but data flow challenges are often important. This is because unlike other businesses processes where “parts” are considered interchangeable and are managed by “part number”. Traceability also focuses on the “variation” between products with the same “part number” (i.e. lot based traceability). It is not enough to know if you have used a specific part in your product, you must also know if you have used a specific part of a specific lot in your product. The more input products a process have, the more lots the processes produces and the more data it generates. This results in more data records and data exchanges, and often requires integration between different business systems. It also requires sophisticated tools to monitor data quality and so ensure traceability system delivers trustworthy data that can be converted into actionable information.

      Ultimately, we believe that it will be those solutions that facilitate efficient and effective data integration that will individually; and together, provide end-to-end
      traceability solutions for the seafood industry.

  4. 3) Trusted relationships and collaboration. End-to-end traceability isn’t going to work if players can’t share data, nor will it become reality if individual tech companies hoard data to turn it into market intelligence products that solely benefit and profit themselves.

  5. 4) ThisFish (http://thisfish.info/) & Norpac (http://www.futureoffish.org/profile/thomas-kraft) are two great stories. I’m particularly impressed with Norpac, as they have used the technology that they invented to not only convert their own supply chain to better practices, but they have led a fisheries improvement project in Indonesia using it. It’s unusual for a company to lead with that level of innovation and risk in the seafood industry.

    1. Yes. It’s been proven that the seafood industry, particularly in the Greater Mekong Subregion, which includes Thailand but also Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China, relies on some slave labor or indentured laborers. For large commercial trawlers that might be out to sea for up to two years at a time, the visibility into labor practices is limited. There have been documented cases of atrocious abuse — beatings and killings at sea.

      The name of a boat is rarely paired with the fish it offloads for very long, thus even if we were to keep better records globally of boat registrations and historic behavior (which we don’t) that information would not be available to the supply chain or the customer. Fish from these slave-powered trawlers are often ground into meal to make pellets for farmed fish or shrimp, yet another layer removed.

      Traceability technology can drive standard data profiles for fish product, which then at least compels companies to supply basic information. Verifying that information will get easier as we start to integrate supply chain tracking with illegal fishing enforcement technologies, which can include satellite tracking.

    1. The best thing all of us can do to increase traceability and accountability in seafood is to simply ask where our fish is from. Unfortunately, much of the time, the purveyor of the fish may not be able to answer that question. By and large, most fish is “mystery” fish, arriving on our plate or at a fish counter without any story behind its journey. Yet, through the practice of asking, we can all help set a new expectation of the industry. We can make “mystery fish” unacceptable and let restaurants and retailers know that they need to start asking their suppliers for better information.

      Other actions that can help include sourcing seafood from shorter supply chains. Find your local farmers market and see if a fisher sells there, or, see if a Community Supported Fishery exists nearby. When immediately local isn’t possible, at least go for US-based fisheries. Though not perfect, we have some of the best management in the world. Whatever you do, avoid imported shrimp at all costs.

      Finally, the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (SAFE Seafood Act) has several provisions that would require detailed information on seafood to accompany product from water to plate, including species, catch location, date of catch, and catch method. A similar bill has also been introduced to the Senate. Consumers can write their representatives and demand support and swift action to pass this legislation.

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