The Pacific Islands’ tuna industry has faced issues relating to illegal fishing and human rights abuses because of crew working conditions and safety. Enabling full traceability and strengthening transparency in the supply chain is seen as a key way to address these issues. A collaborative project between WWF in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand, tech innovator ConsenSys, communications technology implementer TraSeable, and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji seeks to address this issue using a blockchain traceability system to establish ‘Bait-to-plate transparency’.
Blockchain is a digital ledger, originally used in digital currencies, which provides a tamper-proof record of information via a shared database. Applying this to a fisheries traceability system means that details about where and when the fish was caught, which vessel it was caught by and what fishing method was used can be accessed by people throughout the supply chain, including customers at the point of purchase.
TraSeable QR code label. Image credit: WWF/Netflix.
Blockchain has been trialled in a few fisheries: yellowfin tuna and skipjack tuna in South-east Asia, Fiji and Pacific Islands, and Patagonian toothfish/Chilean sea bass in the subantarctic. Its application in the Pacific Islands tuna industry is a significant development compared to the current system where tracking is undertaken using paper records (or not at all) and information is not available to people when they buy fish. The hope is that the technology will help to prevent IUU fishing and provide a market premium for sustainably caught fish, which is clearly demonstrated by the transparent supply chain.
The hope is that the technology will help to prevent IUU fishing and provide a market premium for sustainably caught fish, which is clearly demonstrated by the transparent supply chain.
The technology relies on an RFID tag being fixed to the fish when it is landed. It will register automatically at various points on the vessel, dock and processing facility. At the processing facility, the products receive a QR code (or potentially near field communication or NFC device). The QR code is used to track the product to the retailer and the consumer can scan the code with their smartphone app to show the history of the fish and how it got to their plate. Making information easily accessible to the consumer, where it adds value to their decision making but does not overload them, will be key to the successful implementation of the system.
There are a range of benefits from implementing a traceability system, including promoting sustainably, adding a premium to products, exposing human rights issues and improving work conditions for fishers, and supporting product recalls where needed. Using blockchain as the technological solution for the system helps to guarantee the record is not tampered with. By tracking the fish from the moment it’s caught, blockchain would make it very difficult for any illegal or unreported tuna to enter the market. However, it is important to note that while blockchain can provide chain-of-custody information, it is not insurmountable to mislead people using the system and the effectiveness will depend on how closely users check for inconsistencies. So far, around six companies are using the system but implementation has faced hurdles across the supply chain.
Further work aims to address these hurdles by dealing with patchy internet access, supporting the move from paper records by providing tablets, ensuring tags are durable in rough conditions, and growing buy-in within the industry to accept this increased level of transparency and traceability.
It is important to note that while blockchain can provide chain-of-custody information, it is not insurmountable to mislead people using the system and the effectiveness will depend on how closely users check for inconsistencies.
References and footnotes
 Thunnus albacares.
 Dissostichus eleginoides.
 Visser, C. and Hanich, Q. A. (2018) How blockchain is strengthening tuna traceability to combat illegal fishing, The Conversation, pp. 1–4.
 Montecchi, M. et al. (2019) It’s real, trust me! Establishing supply chain provenance using blockchain, Business Horizons, 62(3), pp. 283–293.