Blockchain for Aquaculture and Fisheries

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Interestingly, more than 88 percent of global fish production is utilized for human consumption. Aquaculture and fish products are some of the most traded food items globally and generate livelihood for millions of people around the world. The growth rate of exports in developing countries has seen a rapid rise in the last decades due to globalisation and the transformation of the world economy with technological advancements. With almost one-third of global stocks overexploited, aquaculture and fisheries’ ecological footprint have certainly stressed the sustainable supply chain’s balance.

Yet the global aquaculture trajectory remained steady and in sync with the forecasted production of salmon, tilapia, seabass and seabream in 2019. In 2018, farmed shrimp production crossed 4 million tonnes,  3 to 5 percent up over 2017. In 2016, the global fish production was close to 171 million tons, while the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts a 20 percent higher global consumption by the year 2030.

Steeping increase in demand of frozen fishes in both developed and developing countries,makes it critical to address the issues of quality, and traceable data to ensure the sustainability of the ocean industry.

Need for Blockchain & Traceability in Aquaculture:

In 2019, at a special seminar at Aqua Nor hosted jointly by Norwegian association of seafood businesses (Sjømatbedriftene) and IBM, Blockchain discussed possibilities for securing the value chain of ocean industries. Alf-Gøran Knutsen, CEO of Kvarøy quoted three specific reasons to implement blockchain technology in fisheries:

  1. Security – the industry and the consumers must be absolutely sure that their purchased fish is the correct type. Most aquaculture companies invest heavily in sustainable farming and cannot risk inferior products being sold.

  2. Market demands – Large retailers and supermarket chains demand proof of origin.

  3. Traceability – both food retailers and consumers demand traceability and adequate information.

In 2018, the Secretary of Commerce established a domestic traceability program for U.S. aquaculture of shrimp and abalone from the point of production to entry into U.S. This mandatory compliance covered eleven species under the Seafood Import Monitoring Program(SIMP) aided by NOAA Fisheries.

SIMP and the traceability system facilitated proper data collection,  sharing, and analysis among relevant regulators and enforcement authorities for imported seafood—marking a significant step forward for addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud.

Today,blockchain is commercially available to combat fraud ,document long and complex production cycles for seafood, and track critical chain of custody , analysis considering ‘states’ (flag, coastal, port, processing and end-market). These are crucial as fishery products transit through national and international supply chains from harvesting, trans-shipment, landing and processing to the consumer end-market. Each section of state requires general control elements necessary to be in place, these often form the basis for traceability monitoring and data acquisition, enabling consumers to fully trust seafood.

Pressing Challenges of the Seafood Industry

  • Environmental regulations have tightened

  • Negligible transparency on social, environmental, and ecological sustainability

  • Multi-border Supply-chain management, including food safety and security, are some of the major concerns affecting the demand of the aqua and fish products

  • Lack of access to information for all stakeholders, including customers

  • Unavailability of real-time data to generate actionable insights using big data and data analytics

  • Traceability of the seafood from hook to fork with validated information and defined data points.

Real-time Blockchain Projects

Increasingly blockchain is employed for a range of services and industries, including transparent resourcing for marine conservation, reducing pollution from plastics, reducing slavery at sea, and sustainable fisheries management. Heightened public distrust for fish and farmer conservation operations and the provenance of seafood are increasing. The focus is shifting to integrate fish farmers with blockchain solutions and gathering specific data on the environmental impact, feed, growth and fish health as these contribute as key factors when raising fish sustainably.

Considering wild-caught seafood value chain, Tuna is by far the most common seafood commodity tracked on the blockchain, among other commodities are patagonian toothfish and farmed shrimp. A recent study by FAO has aggregated data for implemented blockchain projects worldwide with key findings of species, technology used and impact.

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One of the earliest pilot projects in seafood value chains was in 2016 by Project Provenance Ltd (Provenance) in Indonesia,focused on yellowfin tuna loins and skipjack tuna for canning.In this project, fish were individually identified back to the farmer, and tracked through transformation in processing facility, finally using near-field communication (NFC) on product packaging to communicate provenance story. Followed by another project in 2017 for WWF-New Zealand, ConsenSys, Sea Quest, TraSeable Solutions Fiji.

In 2018, the tuna market development company of Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office’s (PNAO), and Atato, a Thailand blockchain- as-a-service (BaaS) platform, implemented the first large-scale blockchain initiative to track purse seine-caught skipjack tuna meant for canning. This initiative brought into the public domain the  chain of custody (CoC) requirements of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) private certification.

Recently, companies such as Fishcoin have partnered with the UN Food Program’s SDG 2 Advocacy Hub to accelerate their move towards sustainable seafood production. The company proposes to improve data collection using decentralized ledger technology, by incentivizing the capture and transmission of catch data for all types of seafood. Also, Bumble Bee Foods, Indonesia, is using SAP  blockchain for Yellowfin tuna (certified “Fair Trade”) by applying QR codes on product packaging. Moreover, Sustainable Shrimp Partnership Ecuador  employs IBM Food Trust, all data on shrimp farms in Ecuador and about its products are accessible to retailers around the world.

First Achievable milestones for Blockchain in Aquaculture:

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FAO suggests a few common reasons for successful implementation of blockchain across projects. These factors include:

  1. Most of them are considered only high-value fish species(tuna and patagonian toothfish species are high-value commodities).

  2. These aquaculture companies had a direct link between digital and physical methods that co-exist, this connection was defined by either tagging individual fish or some other means of recording units of catch data.

  3. Most of the projects had relativelyshort and clearly defined or vertically integrated value chains where the actors were known and trackable.

  4. Immutability of data and secure datasharing were the major factors of blockchain adoption by these sea-food companies.

  5. Implementation using QR codeson product packaging, was favoured, possibly because of its utility.

Reality check for Blockchain Implementation in Aquaculture projects:

While each project was using different technology for blockchain solutions, there were a few pertinent challenges that emerged, FAO analysis represents as below.

  1. Reliant on human input– most of the projects heavily rely on human input of fish data, which is probably open to tampering.

  2. Manual Tagging and labelling of fish– physical fish tags/labels could be possibly lost or damaged while transporting or even tampered with.

  3. Verifiability of private and consortium blockchain platforms– by their very architecture and design these blockchains are not open to the public, verifying transactions independently looks difficult.

  4. Complex seafood value chain scenarios untested– ambiguity from real-world complex seafood value chains where a few actors were unknown, have not been considered as yet.

 The Way Forward

In the world moving towards sustainability, one of the primary sources of protein, i.e. seafood, can not only increase the market share but can also open up new markets, increase collaboration and achieve traceability and transparency for environmental, social and ecological sustainability. Also, a decentralized database could serve as proof and improve resource management. Blockchain in aquaculture and fisheries has reduced transaction processing time, fostering a relationship of reliability and trust between the food producers, governments, retailers, certification bodies, and consumers.

Despite the promise, there is a lack of efficiently acceptable and functioning market-based solutions tested at scale, acknowledging the global presence of the fish and aqua supply chain. Digital Traceability is inevitable and is disrupting the industry. Compared to other agricultural industries, aquaculture and fisheries have been a late adopter. Even today, there is extensive record-keeping, but traceability has not been prioritised and the companies are reluctant to share information. If the technology is not exploited to its full potential, the data quality will suffer industry wide leading to more severe repercussions.

Some experts suggest, permissioned consortium blockchains have the highest potential as per the current state of the technology, for seafood traceability, without the concerns of high energy use and slow transaction times that any publicly listed often permissionless blockchains.

Lately the big fours are venturing into agri-consulting, seemingly the world has pinned blockchain as a solution to variated aquaculture value chain challenges (IUU fishing, seafood safety and species fraud to labour issues) as one stop data tool to safeguard the ocean industry. Is there a collective will by the fisheries trade to adopt and expand as an integral, value chain combining traceability?

About SourceTrace

SourceTrace is a SaaS (Software As A Service) company that focuses on sustainable agriculture and empowerment of farmers.

SourceTrace's advanced technology platform DATAGREEN provides comprehensive solutions to manage all aspects of the agricultural value chain.

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