Nov 8th, 2017

Going Digital for Sustainability

By Dr. Darian McBain

Traceability is the backbone of sustainability

Caption: A fisherman uses his mobile phone on a fishing vessel in the south of Thailand. Photo credit: Thai Union

Consumers around the globe want to know where the food on their plates come from and desire to have the confidence it meets the highest quality and sustainability standards.

Traceability – the ability to track a product from its place of origin all the way to the consumer – is a key component that benefits producers and consumers by bringing transparency to the entire system. When you make traceability go digital, you can really start to introduce a whole new level of transparency to the fishing and seafood industry.

Activities that take place at sea can be difficult to monitor or supervise. All too often, only those on boats understand the conditions faced and the type of fishing being conducted. This lack of monitoring can lead to unacceptable labor and fishing violations, resulting in human rights abuses along with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The problems that plague some modern-day supply chains can no longer be tolerated by businesses, governments nor consumers. With estimates that the number of people now ensnared by modern day slavery is 40.3 million people worldwide, with 24.9 million of those subject to forced labor[1], the information that comes with supply chain transparency, can be used as a tool to shine a light on the issues and help offer solutions to address these issues.

The information derived from traceability can be extremely powerful. Not only can it help guard against IUU fishing and record catch data, but it can also help monitor labor standards on vessels. When you add connectivity, a requirement for real-time fishing data transfer, you can also bring with it the ability for fishers to communicate back to land and bring them a voice at sea.

A digital revolution

Caption: Teams work to install technology on a Thai fishing vessel to bring digital traceability to Thailand’s fishing industry. Photo credit: Thai Union

Currently the fishing industry is reliant upon paper-based systems. This is, in part, because it is more difficult to provide connectivity on a constantly moving fishing boat via satellite at an affordable cost, than it is at a static farm or factory.

Today, even many of the most ethical and sustainable seafood companies use paper-based systems to track at least part of the supply chain. But any paper-based system lacks efficiency and is susceptible to simple human error.

Fortunately, the fishing industry has evolved significantly, making the unimaginable years ago, now possible.

The documentary-style video embedded above highlights how companies like Thai Union and Mars Petcare, along with a coalition of other partners, are capitalizing on modern technological advances.

The film shines a light on the state-of-the-art Inmarsat Fleet One terminals being successfully installed on fishing vessels in Thailand as part of a pilot project to promote digital traceability.

By capturing information digitally, it is possible to share selected data with buyers, regulators, supply chain partners and ultimately, consumers. You can see in the video the use of e-logbooks to capture fishing effort information – species, location, date, time and even how much fish is being caught.

Caption: A man smiling onboard a fishing vessel in the south of Thailand. Photo credit: Thai Union

Importantly for human rights, the video also explores how crew members, captains and fleet owners are now empowered to use mobile phone chat applications to connect with families and peers around the world while at sea — an industry first for Thai fisheries.

The seafood industry needs to continue to work to bring full transparency and digital traceability into the supply chain, and this pilot is a major step in the right direction. In the long run, traceability will help make the entire fishing industry more sustainable, protecting the environment and workers, while delivering a high-quality products and important nutrition to consumers across the globe.

[1] https://www.alliance87.org/global_estimates_of_modern_slavery-forced_labour_and_forced_marriage.pdf