Navigating the Winding Road to Seafood Traceability


Traceability is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. 

The transition from paper to electronic traceability systems is a journey for any company. 
Several factors make this process especially difficult for the seafood industry, including the complexities of seafood supply chains, numerous product types, and concerns about data sharing and security. These system-level barriers mean that even the most motivated companies struggle to adopt traceability technology, and as a whole, the seafood industry lags behind most other markets.

Alanna Gisondo of FishWise walks participants through the multi-stepped process or “continuum” of traceability adoption and implementation.

This is why we’re working with Fishwise, the Global Food Traceability Center, and WWF Global as part of a seafood traceability collaboration to create a set of tools and initiatives to address implementation roadblocks and accelerate traceability adoption. Each of us has our own unique expertise we bring to the system—but we aren’t the only ones in the space. To ensure our solutions are meeting the needs of both industry and NGOs working with business partners, we decided to check in at the recent Conservation Alliance meeting in Dec 2017.

What do you really want to know?

We began with an overview of the collaboration and the different types of resources we are creating. These include educational resources about traceability, tools to help industry assess company-level or supply chain-specific traceability needs and requirements, and activities to help guide individual companies or groups of trading partners through the educational and implementation process. 
We then asked attendees—all of whom are NGOs working on sustainable seafood — to share the most pressing or common questions they are asked by industry partners when discussing traceability. From the 25 participants, we found that NGOs repeatedly hear six common concerns:
1. How can I verify and demonstrate traceability information?
2. Why can’t you just tell us what to do?
3. What is everyone else doing?
4. How do I protect proprietary information?
5. How can I use traceability to reduce risk?
6. How do we get the industry to move forward together towards agreed upon standards? 

As participants shared this feedback, further discussion revealed four additional categories of roadblocks:
1. Understanding and communicating return​ ​on​ ​investment (ROI)
2. The processes and requirements of effective verification
3. How to create and set common standards for and with​ ​industry
4. Lack​ ​of​ ​consumer​ ​awareness driving traceability efforts 


As a follow up, we asked participants to name the one issue they would have their industry partner understand about traceability. Though diverse, the responses fell into six key categories:
1. There can be a strong business case for traceability
2. The difference between tracking and traceability.
3. Traceability is a process, it is not static and doesn’t happen overnight.
4. Traceability does not ensure legality or social responsibility, it’s a tool.
5. Sustainability is insufficient, consumers are demanding traceability.
6. It’s everyone’s responsibility and all parties have an onus to work together to make improvements.


We've got a tool for that.

We then mapped the current tools and resources that our seafood collaboration is working on (see this PDF summary of programs) to determine if we were meeting these needs. We mapped them according to Effort vs. Predicted Impact in the space. Participants helped us to determine potential impact based on how well each tool seems to address one or more identified needs.
The good news: nearly all needs were met by one or more of the collaboration initiatives. For instance, an Industry Traceability Toolkit is in development, which will include resources to help companies identify how traceability can reduce different types of risks and help companies better plan for investment in traceability systems; an ROI model will assist companies with planning and monitoring their ROI from traceability; and a global initiative is underway to set common standards.
The most outstanding need that is not currently addressed by our collaboration was around building consumer demand for traceability.


Next Steps

We concluded the workshop by discussing specific messaging efforts that could help move the conversation and action forward with industry partners. Feedback from participants identified the following three strategies:
1. Express the idea of traceability as tool to address (rather than a solution for) IUU and labor abuses
2. Emphasize that traceability implementation is an iterative process
3. Promote pre-competitive work in traceability.
We are encouraged by this feedback, as several of the resources still in development will align with these strategies, as well as specifically meet many of the identified needs.
This was Future of Fish’s first year as collaborators in the Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Seafood and we are grateful for the valuable opportunity it provides to share developments and receive advice from colleagues in our field.
We invite anyone interested in learning more about available tools and resources to come find us at the North American Seafood Expo in March. Our Industry Toolkit for Traceability launches in a few weeks, so stay tuned to this site for updates!