Traceability of the seafood supply chain

This is a repost of two articles by Mark Gibson from Breaching the Blue:

FishWise’s Mariah Boyle just put out an excellent white paper on seafood traceability efforts by nonprofits, governments, and companies.  It is comprehensive and concisely written.  I highly recommend it for those marine policy wonks out there.  The report can be found here.

A few excerpts to consider:

Traceability is defined as the ability to systematically identify a unit of production, track its location, and describe any treatments or transformations at all stages of production, processing, and distribution (Seafood Traceability in Canada Report, 2009). For seafood, full traceability also entails that a consumer unit of seafood at a restaurant or retailer can be traced throughout the supply chain back to its point of harvest by a vessel or on a farm. This is important for food safety, ensuring the legality of the product, and for verifying sustainability. Full traceability is achieved through proper documentation and record keeping, along with proper handling protocols during processing, shipping and receiving to ensure that product can be tracked accurately…

Seafood is a globally traded commodity, and language and technological barriers hinder the use of standardized electronic systems for full traceability within supply chains…

Limitations in resources, database expertise, and IT staff often allow for IT systems to become antiquated and not effective for comprehensive traceability. For smaller companies, significant costs may also hinder progress…

Often, full traceability cannot be achieved because product is not traceable at points of mixing such as processing, auctions, or transhipment at sea. Traceability is also problematic with small fishing vessels in open access fisheries and when documents are falsified to conceal illegally caught or mislabeled product…

Efforts in seafood traceability by governments, companies and organizations are varied and are often not developed in coordination.

From here, I’m really hoping FishWise or another organization would put together case studies of how traceability arose in other commodity supply chains. What were the drivers? Profits? Regulators? Social concerns? Technological innovation?

I’d also be very interested in learning how traceability schemes can raise the revenues of seafood firms. It seems assumed that traceability schemes will raise costs, and yet today very sophisticated traceability schemes have been implemented as a means of increasing competitiveness in many economic sectors.

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Following on last week’s post on traceability, I thought I’d throw up a nice infographic from Oceana.  There are, indeed, many points of change that can make traceability difficult.

Here are the steps your fish may take before it gets to you:

Step 1: All of the seafood sold in the U.S. is either caught by fishing vessels or raised in aquaculture facilities. Fish and shellfish are put on ice or flash-frozen on board the vessel or at the aquaculture facility.

Step 2: During primary processing, the head and guts of the fish are removed, making it easier to transport and prevent spoilage. At this point, the vessel may take its catch to shore for processing on land. However, for many fisheries, giant at-sea processing vessels collect seafood from many catcher vessels, then head and gut the fish while crossing the ocean. These at-sea processors and transport vessels frequently deliver fish to large plants in countries where labor is cheap to begin secondary processing of the fish.

Step 3: Secondary processing includes thawing the fish to allow trimming, deboning, breading, cooking, and packaging for wholesale or retail sales. At this stage, the fish is refrozen and labeled as a “product of” the country where processing takes place, often omitting where it was farmed or captured.

Step 4: Finally the seafood meal is exported to the U.S. and enters the same product supply chain as most prepared foods, where it may be thawed again to sell in ready-to-eat form. (Domestically produced seafood follows a similar supply chain, but may have a shorter distance to travel.)

Step 5: Seafood is often sold through specialty distributors or may be sourced nationwide by a broadline distributor such as Sysco or Aramark. Wholesale and retail food service establishments, including restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias, hospitals and institutions, then sell seafood to consumers.

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