How tablets and WhatsApp could make fishing sustainable
When Eric Enno Tamm was young, his family’s fish catches were sent to the market with a sheet of paper indicating which species it was and who had caught them. It was a tenuous link for a product likely to pass through several hands – processors, transporters, retailers – on its way from sea to plate.
Decades later, not much has changed.
“Generally speaking, at the moment, it’s paper and clipboard. The fish come in (to the processing plant), they weigh it, they write it down. They have to do quality control inspections – another clipboard and a paper form. They cut the fish, they weigh it – another paper form, ”said Tamm, who grew up in Ucluelet, B.C. and is the co-founder of This Fish, a social enterprise that develops record-keeping software for fish processors in order to improve their traceability.
Processors – the companies that weigh, cut, pack and process seafood – are essential to seafood supply chains around the world. But the cumbersome, paper-based system used by many companies and operators makes traceability difficult, he said. For consumers, this lack of information can make it almost impossible to know which seafood is harvested sustainably.
Over 30% of Canada’s seafood imports lack sufficient information to know whether they have been harvested sustainably. Skipjack and farmed shrimp and salmon are among the most prevalent unsustainable species sold in the country, according to a 2020 report by SeaChoice.
“We have a very basic traceability system in Canada,” said Christina Callegari, sustainable seafood coordinator for the Ecology Action Center, an environmental organization based in Halifax.
The European Union, United States and Japan – the world’s largest seafood markets – all have more stringent traceability requirements than Canada, she noted.
In Canada, several species may be sold under a single common name – for example, “tuna” or “shrimp” – while traceability laws only require retailers to mark the “place of last major processing”. This is the place where he was last treated, she explained.
“Because seafood chains are so complex, the place where seafood was caught or raised is often not where it was processed, so consumers still don’t know where to go. where their seafood actually comes from. “
“(Traceability) needs to be built into the realities of the field,” said @dyhiapadilla of @ecotrustcanada. #Fishing #Food #Sustainability
This is a problem that Tamm is trying to solve.
“It’s easy to understand what’s (going on) on a fishing boat… the same with fish farming,” he said. “But inside a fish processing plant?” Typically there is one roof and four walls, and a fairly high level of food safety. You can’t just come in and see it. And it can be quite a complex industrial process, (so you need) some knowledge and familiarity with it. ”
The “unique culture and unique challenges” of seafood add to the complexity, ”he explained. Unlike most food products where the raw ingredients are made into a homogeneous product like a chocolate bar, fish “comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s bought in all shapes and sizes, and it’s often sold in all shapes and sizes, ”he said.
The software developed by This Fish is designed to accommodate this diversity.
The idea, Tamm said, is that every box of fish that enters a processing plant is connected to a central database via a QR code, an internet-enabled scale or similar technology that records what is inside, where the fish were caught and by whom. Fishermen and factory workers can use tablets, smartphones and other relatively common technologies to put information into the central database.
Whenever fish goes through a different step in the supply chain – weighing, cutting or freezing, for example – its movement is recorded in the software’s central database. This creates a digital trail that processors, retailers, governments and consumers can follow to the boat, if necessary.
It is an approach that can shed light on parts of global seafood supply chains that are often difficult to reach. Tamm said the company is working with processors serving Canadian and international markets.
The software can also be tailored to the needs of businesses of different sizes, making it easier for smaller-scale fish processing plants and the fishermen who supply them to sell to global markets. It’s a welcome nod to addressing global inequalities around which fishermen can access the more lucrative market for sustainably harvested fish, said Dyhia Belhabib, Fisheries Scientist and Senior Fisheries Researcher at Ecotrust Canada. The Vancouver-based environmental organization helped This Fish get started, but is no longer affiliated with the company.
“Traceability is not yet there in our current world where we can trace the fish back to the fishermen who actually caught it in most of the world’s fisheries. This fish is special (because) it allows it… but it is really far from reaching the main fisheries that exist, ”she explained.
Access to the right technology – tablets, for example – is a barrier for many fishermen, especially in less wealthy countries. Traceability systems must also be adaptable to local needs to be successful.
“(Traceability) must be integrated into the realities on the ground. For example, in many parts of Africa, every fisherman will have WhatsApp; they’re all going to have smartphones, ”she says.
Traceability systems that only require this level of technological investment and can feed into larger global information systems can facilitate these fishermen’s access to international markets for sustainable seafood. The use of tools available to operators can also ensure that traceability systems can effectively improve the environmental benefits of the system.
“First and foremost, (traceability) is at the service of the consumer, because I want to know who caught my fish. But I think that if there is no real participation of the fishermen – which is the very essence of This Fish – then we lose an important aspect: the will of the communities to be the custodians of the ocean ” , she said.