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Standardizing Technology to Trace Sources of Seafood

Tracing seafood back to its source has turned out to be a maddeningly complex challenge, with conflicting technology, standards and even definitions.

6d654867-2b2d-4e56-af11-cf368cadd9c3The lack of transparency has made it impossible to identify illegal and unreported fish and has made it difficult for sustainable suppliers from being able to charge premium prices.

The Global Food Traceability Center at the Institute of Food Technologists is aiming to tackle the welter of standards, with help from a $1.3 million grant from the the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The center aims to design a common technology architecture for seafood traceability and related communications, education, and training efforts.

Conflict between traceability software, hardware and systems for the seafood industry has long been pointed to as a weak link in ocean preservation.

“There is at present no mechanism in place to develop what our food industry stakeholders tell us is an important missing piece for effective food traceability.” said William Fisher, the center’s executive director.

Global economic losses from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are estimated at $10 billion and $23.5 billion annually, representing between 11 and 26 million tons of black-market fish.

Traceability means supply chain transparency, ideally all the way from boat to plate. Such transparency into the movements of a particular fish through the supply chain will make it easier to charge a premium for sustainable seafood.

If designed with a whole systems approach, traceability could also have spillover impact on fair working conditions for fishers and be a safeguard for food hygiene. (See “How Tracing Seafood can Protect Humans, Too.”)

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