By Monica Jain
The seafood industry has one of the most complicated supply chains in the world, often with five to seven companies involved from catch to plate, each keeping records on paper in far-flung locations. In these murky waters a new wave of entrepreneurs sees opportunities to make the seafood industry more transparent to consumers, businesses and governments striving for sustainability.
The seafood industry defines traceability as the ability to track the source of seafood, the conditions under which it is farmed or caught, and the intermediaries it passes through. Improving traceability is critical to promoting sustainability in both aquaculture and wild-caught fish: The current, largely opaque supply chain hides numerous negative impacts, including overfishing, fraud, human rights abuses in the labor force, pollution and resource depletion. (See TriplePundit’s recent Q&A on seafood traceability for details on systemic issues.)
The shrimp market illustrates many of these issues. Shrimp is one of the most heavily consumed types of seafood, accounting for a $5 billion market in the U.S. and 2 billion euros in the EU. More than half the world’s shrimp supply comes from aquaculture, which has grown rapidly in recent years, largely in Asia. As detailed in our recent report, this rapid growth and lack of oversight has resulted in habitat destruction, disease outbreaks, and in the case of the Thai shrimp feed industry, forced labor.
The fishing industry in Thailand employs 300,000 people, many of them migrants from Myanmar or Cambodia. These migrants often are heavily indebted to their traffickers, who then sell them off as crew on ships catching fish used for shrimp feedstock. NGOs and governments have been bringing international pressure to bear on this issue, and retailers in the U.S. and Europe are looking to traceability strategies to verify suppliers’ labor standards. Ethical suppliers are out there. Traceability enables corporate buyers and consumers to support businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible and to avoid creating market incentives for bad practices.
The business opportunity is significant: the market for food traceability products and technologies is expected to grow to $14.1 billion by 2019, according to Allied Market Research. That growth is fueled by increased government reporting requirements, consumers who want to know where their food comes from, and businesses answering to both regulators and customers. (For details, see the Fish 2.0 market report on traceability.)
Traceability-focused companies are well-represented in this year’s Fish 2.0 competition for sustainable seafood businesses. We see companies focusing on traceability in various aspects of their business strategy, ranging from developing new technologies that capture data at the source to creating consumer products and brands based on transparent sustainability information. Presenters at Fish 2.0’s final event (taking place Nov. 10 to 11 at Stanford University) include:
Creating systems that allow us to develop the world’s aquaculture resources responsibly, manage fisheries sustainably and ensure that the seafood industry supports good jobs and healthy habitats worldwide is going to be good business over the long haul.
Image credit: Flickr/Laszlo Ilyes
Monica Jain is the founder and executive director of Fish 2.0 and Manta Consulting Inc. She has worked for over 20 years in the private sector and philanthropy, and specializes in creating innovative financing strategies and structures for impact investors, foundations, and private sector–nonprofit partnerships. Follow her @fish20org.