Finding the One: Insights from our Seafood Summit panel


Selecting a traceability technology provider — or better yet, a group of them — can be a daunting step for any seafood supplier. That’s why we were thrilled to have veterans of the traceability implementation process join us for a panel called “Finding the One” at the 2017 Seafood Summit in Seattle, Washington. In this first-ever all-women panel, representatives from International Pole & Line Foundation (IPLNF), Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia (MDPI) and The Nature Conservancy Belize (TNC Belize) shared their unique business drivers, experiences, and “if I could go back and do it again, I’d do this differently…” reflections. Their candid presentations provided insights into the benefits and challenges organizations can experience in their traceability journey. 
This conversation then fed into more intimate breakout sessions where audience members compared notes on their experiences, and asked questions of the panelists and Future of Fish experts at each table. Our team has synthesized these various conversations and distilled the key insights from the event. We share these findings here in the hopes of continuing to better support those individuals and organizations looking to take the next steps in implementing traceability themselves. 

The Needs

Attendees were aware of the growing need for traceability, and seemed to support the concept in general. It was clear in conversations, however, that the NGOs, government regulators, and technology companies who are really pushing for traceability have some work to do to clarify just why traceability is so important and how it can help both the industry overall and individual businesses. 
A common question: What is all of this for? One participant pointed out that their company had no problem collecting and managing data; the trouble was in realizing the data’s value. They wanted to see direct, immediate benefits from their technology investment.
Participants also noted a need for buy-in from within the supply chain, particularly among groups that are farther removed from the end consumer. These groups don’t necessarily see the final outcome of their data collection, so may be less motivated to participate. Getting them more involved represents a huge opportunity to increase their involvement and ensure that they see benefits from the overall effort.
Government fisheries managers and regulators were the largest groups missing from the event. Participants highlighted an opportunity for government involvement, particularly where efforts can be combined. Government dockside landing data, for example, can be incorporated directly into traceability systems, offering efficiency to supply chain players and further data validation for government managers.
Attendees also noted an increasing need for collaboration on data standards and infrastructure support as governments turn to traceability to prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to reduce seafood fraud. We agree and are currently pursuing work that integrates governments into traceability efforts from water to plate. 

The Concerns

Though we perceived overall support for traceability, many participants voiced significant concerns. 
Not surprisingly, at the top of everyone’s mind was the price tag. Traceability technology is all well and good, provided you have the funds to pay for it. The lack of proven return on investment, and the perception that traceability technology is expensive, is a pervasive, systemic barrier to accelerating adoption of traceability technology in the seafood supply chain — and it is something Future of Fish has been actively working to solve. Designing new financial models to support long-term adoption and implementation of full-chain traceability is a focus of Future of Fish’s Fishery Development Model (FDM); we are currently working in multiple fisheries around the globe to explore ROI models and new business cases for traceability. We’ll share our progress here on this blog and we invite those interested in this work to reach out to us directly
Beyond the funding issue, data integrity was also a commonly-discussed point of concern. After all, the effectiveness and benefits of traceability hinge on high-quality data. Participants were concerned that the potential for and the ramifications of bad data haven’t fully been explored. Where do responsibilities lie? How does a system recover if things go wrong? Both WWF and Future of Fish have published reports that reflect this concern, noting the necessity of third-party data validation to ensure accuracy. 
Many participants also noted seafood's unique complexity in terms of the hundreds of species and many product forms. The need to standardize key data elements like weights, species names, product forms, and harvest areas in order to accurately track data is well-known, but such standardization is also a delicate balancing act; some participants feared too many standards make systems rigid and unable to adapt to unique supply chain conditions.
Finally, table discussions also addressed the uncertainty around how private data would be protected as it travelled along the supply chain. While we agree this is a challenge, it is not — as most individuals assume — a technology challenge. Technology providers already have the capacity to protect proprietary data within a full-chain data-sharing system. Instead, the work that remains is for supply chain trading partners to align and agree on what data is captured and shared with whom. The results will look different, depending on regulatory requirements, business drivers, sustainability commitments, and product types, but in all cases, the technological solutions already exist to preserve data integrity and security in seafood supply chains, just as they do in the financial sector and other food systems
The good news is, we may already be able to alleviate some of these concerns. The table below notes some specific hesitancies and potential resources for addressing them.

Where does one start if they want to investigate and implement traceability?

Multiple resources are available. Below you’ll find links to some of our favourites:

Traceability 101

FishWise Traceability Resources

Journal of Food Science - Special Supplement on Seafood Traceability

What happens when the donor funding that gets traceability in place ends? How will supply chains continue to fund ongoing use of the technology?

Future of Fish is currently working to understand the business case for traceability in seafood supply chains. We would be happy to discuss the ROI for traceability in your unique business. Reach out to learn more.

The Journal of Food Science - Special Supplement on Seafood Traceability discusses these concerns as well.

Are we rushing into using technology?

Absolutely not. Many affordable technology solutions make data management and accessibility more effective and reliable, and have been successfully operational for many years.

Are there interim steps to take before electronic traceability?

Electronic, verifiable, full-chain traceability is the only way to root out IUU and seafood fraud. However, building out a work plan of incremental steps and beginning to execute on them is invaluable. Contact us to get started.

Will this expensive technology become obsolete?

This is the challenge with any sort of technology, whether we’re talking about seafood traceability or your next smartphone. Luckily, affordable technology solutions do exist, and more technology companies are focused on providing products that can be upgraded or scaled at minimal cost.

How do we select a provider?

Future of Fish has worked closely with seafood traceability technology providers for many years, and we are in the process of supporting leading vendors in the development of TAST-T, the Trade Association for Seafood Traceability Technology. In addition to supporting the development of pre-competitive interoperable technology solutions, Future of Fish has developed a comprehensive RFP process that can help you find the best technology to meet your organization's business needs. Contact us to learn more.

Some species are more challenging than others.

The basic steps required to implement full-chain traceability remain the same, regardless of species or supply chain configuration. See this article for more details.

Future of Fish's Fisheries Development Model is a comprehensive approach to creating data-rich supply chains and is being applied in diverse fisheries across the globe. Contact us for details.

What about privacy/data security?

Technology providers understand the industry need for privacy and data security. Many solutions exist that can meet your needs. Quick tip: For software  as a service solutions, seek out those with URLs beginning with ‘https://’ rather than ‘http://’. The ‘s’ represents a secured network.

Where is the liability if the data is untrue?

Ensuring data is verifiable is a cornerstone of good traceability. Verification can be achieved in different ways, whether through regular audits or cross-system verification (comparisons between supply chain and governmental data, for example). Working towards full-chain electronic traceability that includes data verification is the best way to ensure that data you receive is authentic. Future of Fish’s 5 Core Functions of Traceability discusses this in detail.

All technology currently available is rudimentary, and therefore unreliable

We were surprised to hear this one and wish we knew which rumor mill produced this concern! Many technology companies offering traceability services have been operational for years, and have played key roles in the progression of seafood traceability internationally. We do recommend doing your research, however. Key questions to ask: How long has the company been around? Where is their technology being used? If possible, reach out to those companies and get a first-hand review on their product and services. Many reliable vendors can be contacted through the TAST-T website.

Building technology in-house will allow for more flexible, customizable solutions.

This is always a tempting option. How hard could it be, right? Our research has shown that, unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work well in software. The best softwares look seamless and simple from a user's point of view, but the back-end reveals enormous complexity. And customized systems make interoperability more difficult as they don’t necessarily “talk” to other systems; this slows progress towards robust, full-chain digital traceability.


The Potential

Despite the concerns and long list of needs, there was also tangible optimism in the room about the potential opportunities and business benefits that traceability could provide individual companies and the global seafood industry.
Participants noted that the seafood industry isn’t the only one adopting traceability. Many other industries can help inform traceability development in seafood supply chains, especially the meat and dairy industries, which began traceability implementation years ago. There is a lot we can learn from their efforts, as this recent article by GFTC describes.
Almost everyone agreed that there is a lot more room to grow. Many seafood supply chains haven’t been as involved in these traceability discussions, notably those in Asian markets. Given the large quantity of the seafood trade that touches Asian markets, the potential for positive change in the industry would expand exponentially if these businesses were involved in traceability implementation. 

Moving Forward

We know that in a swiftly evolving field such as traceability technology it can be difficult to find reliable information about traceability adoption and implementation. There is a definite need for a “one stop shop” information hub that collects, curates, and clearly presents the information businesses need most. Through continued events such as this panel, as well as resource development and pilot projects, we  together with the Seafood Traceability Collaborators FishWise, GFTC, and WWF  are building resources to help accelerate understanding and implementation of digital traceability throughout the seafood industry. If you are an NGO working to understand and assist industry with traceability implementation, check out our NGO Traceability Toolkit. If you are a seafood supply chain company, reach out to us and stay tuned for our upcoming Industry Traceability Toolkit in 2018.