Getting There from Here

A guide for companies implementing seafood supply-chain traceability technology

Over the past decade, the call for seafood traceability has grown louder and more urgent amid rising concerns about mislabeling, illegal fishing, and diminishing stocks of some of the world’s most commercially important fish. Recent reports have now sounded additional alarms on human trafficking and modern-day slavery within the seafood supply chain. For seafood companies attempting to play by the rules, these systemic failures threaten market efficiencies, brand integrity, and profits.

The seafood traceability agenda to date has been driven largely by nonprofits, consumer advocacy groups, and government agencies focused on product recall, public health, and accurate labeling issues. Increasingly, retailers and other industry representatives are taking up the cause, having been influenced by consumer demand for product transparency and recognizing the need to mitigate risk. However, in the absence of regulation, pushing full-chain implementation of the data capture and management systems required to support true end-to-end traceability has proved challenging.

This report aims to highlight the compelling market incentives of traceability, while raising awareness of the very real human and technological barriers that hamper broader adoption. Through interviews with key technology vendors, NGOs, government agencies, trade groups, and a sample of supply-chain players, Future of Fish assessed: credible business wins offered by traceability technology systems in general; twelve specific seafood traceability vendor solutions and the key business benefits of each; key principles for a smooth transition to traceability adoption and implementation; and barriers to traceability technology adoption, successful implementation, and whole-chain traceability.

Building a Business Case for Traceability

Efforts by nonprofits and government agencies to push their traceability agendas are often confounded by the fact that many companies perceive traceability technology as purely an added cost with no measurable returns. However, traceability technology offers some clear business wins for seafood companies. Within the seafood industry, the ability of fishers, processors, distributors, and retailers to seamlessly share key information about a product as it wends its way from dock to dinner plate can improve inventory management, reduce operational inefficiencies, reduce waste and improve yields, increase the pace of decision making, and fuel innovation across the entire business ecosystem. For an industry where the difference between making a profit and being in the red can be a matter of pennies per pound, traceability technology can provide clear competitive advantage.

"In terms of managing costs of goods sold, [traceability] has revolutionized what we’re able to do."

—Thomas Kraft, Founder, Norpac

Barriers to Traceability

Despite the benefits outlined, our research uncovered a complex of barriers impeding end-to-end seafood traceability, which must be addressed differentially with context-appropriate strategies and interventions. These barriers fall into two general categories: barriers to whole-chain traceability, which includes information silos, lack of universal standards, lack of interoperability, industry fragmentation, and policy paralysis; and barriers to adoption of traceability, which includes data-security concerns, lack of compelling evidence of ROI, a guarded culture, archaic data capture and management practices, and midchain black holes.

A Smooth Transition to Traceability Adoption

While a company interested in adopting a traceability system will need to perform its own due diligence, we have identified the following basic principles that can help smooth implementation and foster acceptance and use across the organization and with key partners in the supply chain. In many cases, following these four principles will serve to surmount many of the aforementioned barriers.

Build Traceability into the Business Plan

Leadership teams should look at traceability as they would any other strategic investment toward growing the business.

Implement Protocols and Processes to Maximize Success

As with any technology upgrade, a prerequisite to deploying a traceability system involves identifying the best policies and processes for inputting, managing, and exchanging data. Seafood companies should take advantage of the opportunities that come with a technology deployment to tighten up inefficient workflows and refresh outdated data.

Enhance the Data Verification Process

While it may be impossible to create fully airtight verification, companies can take steps to improve their verification processes and ensure that all partners and customers are following accepted best practices for traceability.

Build Trust, Share Data

Protecting proprietary data from competitors will always be a concern—as it should be. But the need to share key product information to uphold food safety, maintain regulatory compliance, and improve operational efficiency requires that companies explore new ways to safely and securely share data across the supply chain.

Next Steps

To facilitate the evolution of both the technology and cultural pieces of the traceability puzzle, Future of Fish aims to bring together key players with diverse expertise to collaboratively design solutions that address the technology, cultural, and systems-level barriers captured here. These design workshops will use a co-design process to build upon the insights gained from this report and the growing body of knowledge on traceability systems, and most importantly, will draw from the unique experience of participants in the room, to generate realistic and innovative solutions to this complex system challenge. For more information, email us at