Consumers are hungry for greater transparency - especially when it comes to fish. A recent study found that more than half of consumers are willing to pay more for certified sustainable seafood products. Yet, the industry’s complicated global supply chains have made traceability a challenge and have allowed forced labor to thrive. Luckily, certification programs such as that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have proven to have accurate, robust practices in place, and emerging technologies can help the rest of the industry get on board.
British technology company Provenance has completed a pilot project demonstrating how blockchain technology can be used to track fish from sea to consumer, signifying a major step towards transparent, traceable and sustainable fishing practices.
“This pilot is an important step in proving that complex, global supply chains can be made transparent by utilising blockchain technology. The current system has flaws, and we are desperately in need of a solution to help consumers make more conscious decisions when purchasing goods,” Jessi Baker, founder of Provenance, said in a statement.
Blockchains, made (in)famous by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, are peer-to-peer networks that are not "owned" by anyone, offer the opportunity to share data between parties without the need for a third party, and are typically designed to be reliable, secure and deliver neutrality. New information cannot be removed or changed after it has been written. Provenance’s blockchain acts as a ledger of events between computers, receiving data from SMS messages from fishermen’s phones and other entries along the value chain, and is able to deliver this information to the consumer via a QR code, RFID tag, or other hardware technology of choice.
The pilot ran from January through June 2016 in Indonesia, the largest tuna-producing country, and involved three phases:
- Fishermen: Local fishermen collect catch data and send simple SMS messages to register their catch, issuing a new ‘asset’ on the blockchain. These are transferred from fishermen to suppliers along with the catch. The identity of the fishermen are saved forever in the list of previous owners on the blockchain.
- Along the chain: Anyone with the unique identifier can access the fish’s record, which is attached to the item as a QR Code, RFID tag or another hardware technology. If the fish changes - processed or tinned, for example - that too will be registered on the blockchain, and encoded in a label that will be passed with the transformed product down the chain.
- Consumers: Origin and supply chain information is accessible and can be trusted; shoppers are able to view authenticated stories about each product, seeing the producers and suppliers involved in farming and/or processing.
Conventional current practices involve paper records and tags that accompany the sale and purchase of items such as skipjack tuna. The pilot showed how unique tools can be used to track chain-of-custody and allow customers to access verified information about the fish they are looking to purchase in a store or at a restaurant. Provenance’s tested application is designed to work through a simple smartphone interface that links identity, location, material attributes, certifications and audit information of an object - in this case tuna fish - with a specific item or batch ID on the blockchain that can be digitally transferred at points of sale from fisherman to supplier and beyond.
Provenance’s efforts were supported by Humanity United, the foundation that coordinates the Partnership for Freedom. Partnership for Freedom recently concluded the second of three Innovation Challenges, awarding $250,000 for the development of the Labor Safe Digital Certificate, another digital traceability tool for seafood suppliers.
Meanwhile, a new (free) membership organization aims to boost the usage of blockchain technology to generate good social and environmental solutions. Launched this month, the Blockchain Alliance for Good unites blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts from around the world and provides them with a springboard for “good” innovations. The Alliance is based in the UK but operates internationally.