Who is demanding traceable seafood?

Trust is high on the agenda in the seafood industry. The EU demands it by regulating against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The US is in the final stages of a presidential task force on seafood fraud. So market demand should follow right? The answer may not be as clear as we might think.

Explanation by Megan Bailey on the IFITT model

The IFITT programme has been developing an approach for transparency tuna fisheries in Indonesia. The idea started off simply enough; introduce a consumer facing traceability system (ThisFish), combine it with an existing privately-led enumeration system (MDPI), and the market will support it all by buying the tuna.

While the programme has established a clear proof of concept – traceable tuna is available on the US market – it is less clear whether this solution is scalable beyond a niche product. Surely it should be given the widespread regulation requiring greater transparency in seafood.

What we are learning through the IFITT programme is that traceability that goes beyond a bare minumum of one-up, one-down, is regarded as highly disruptive to seafood trade. The fear of disruption in turn means that buyers risk limiting the extent of transparency that is possible in the industry.

Why are they doing this? Our research reveals a range of reasons. Traceability increases costs with no clear return on investment; it exposes consumers to the global and predominantly frozen character of seafood (which goes against assumptions of local fresh fish!); and it might expose proprietary information to others. From a researchers perspective, it is not clear whether these concerns are well founded given the dearth of information around the effect traceability has on value chain transparency.

The fact there is little consensus on what kind of traceability best serves the interests of the industry does not help. There are multiple traceability providers all vying for the attention of buyers. What buyers seem to be struggling with is answering a central question in this debate: what is transparent enough? And further to this, which of these traceability providers can I trust?

So who is demanding traceability? Governments are mandating greater transparency and traceability providers are stepping up to deliver. If buyers, including consumers, are not voting with their wallets, it seems greater transparency remains a normative agenda by regulators than a private demand. But at some point norms and regulation will dictate these private actions. Is then fair to assume that before that happens the seafood industry should look to invest and innovate, or be left to catch up?

Interested in reading more?

Bailey, M., Bush, S. R., Miller, A., & Kochen, M. (2016). The role of traceability in transforming seafood governance in the global South. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 18, 25-32. DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2015.06.004

Govern People. Govern Fish

Trust is high on the agenda in the seafood industry. The EU demands it by regulating against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The US is in the final stages of a presidential task force on seafood fraud. So market demand should follow right? The answer may not be as clear as we might think.

Explanation by Megan Bailey on the IFITT model

The IFITT programme has been developing an approach for transparency tuna fisheries in Indonesia. The idea started off simply enough; introduce a consumer facing traceability system (ThisFish), combine it with an existing privately-led enumeration system (MDPI), and the market will support it all by buying the tuna.

While the programme has established a clear proof of concept – traceable tuna is available on the US market – it is less clear whether this solution is scalable beyond a niche product. Surely it should be given the widespread regulation requiring greater transparency…

View original post 288 more words