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Tracking Fiji’s tuna with blockchain technology

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Provenance pilot blockchain technology for tracing yellowfin and skipjack tuna fish in Indonesia from shore to shopper

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The Pacific region is facing a huge decrease in fisheries revenue – its principal source of income and employment over the last decade. Reported by Stop Illegal Fishing, the Fijian government states that, “About 306,440 t of fish were harvested illegally in the Pacific region with an estimated cost of $616.11 million from 2010 to 2015”.

Overfishing and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in Fiji have affected fishery revenue, investment and employment opportunities, as well as the sustainability of fish stocks. Half of the island population – who depend on the ocean and fisheries for their livelihood – is trapped in an IUU net and facing the negative impact of this on the islands’ blue economy.

Fiji’s government, with the help of technical and financial partners, have implemented multiple actions against fish traffic and today, consistently patrols its waters to implement IUU control.

International and local actors, such as NGOs, activists, donor projects, and fishing communities are also coming together to combat illicit fisheries and cut down the economic loss for the islands, as well as the negative impact of illegal fisheries on the local sea life. Despite government and multi-stakeholder efforts, the seafood industry of the islands remains untrusted by all stakeholders, since fraud and IUU continue to be reported. In February 2019, for example, as reported by FBC News: “18 local fishing vessels were given fixed penalty notices while two are yet to face court for illegal fishing and $52,000 (€46,500) has been collected in spot fines from illegal fishing alone.”

Engagement in sustainable and fair fishing by businesses and industry leaders is not distinguished by the end-consumer, and companies – such as national exporters – practicing environmental and social responsibility are only partly recognised for their positive efforts. Those working hard towards sustainable practices and fair labour standards are unfairly painted with the same broad brush as the illegal and unfair producers. Meanwhile, efforts to reduce brand and reputation risk by end markets of the value chain are seeking mechanisms to ensure they are not dealing with suppliers involved in illegal or unethical practices. But, existing traceability systems do not provide full accountability of parties engaged in the sector: “they provide transparency and security against brand or reputation risk, but they rely on third party auditing and verification, leaving space for possible fraud and controversy,” says Bubba Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at the World Wild Fund (WWF).

‘Bait to plate’

To solve the trust and traceability issues encountered in seafood sectors in Fiji, WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Australia, and WWF-Fiji have teamed up with the global blockchain venture ConsenSys, ICT implementer TraSeable, and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji Ltd. These partners are working together to deliver fully traceable tuna blockchain supply chain products, called ‘bait to plate’. According to Cook, the consortium relies on blockchain “because of the immutable and verifiable nature of blockchain, which offers greater levels of transparency and trust in supply chain transactions”. For her, blockchain is a perfect alternative to existing technologies, “offering a higher level of confidence in the information captured in the supply chain and, therefore, the purchasing decisions that market actors make.” The technology “creates full transparency and traceability for commodities such that markets can reward ethical and sustainable suppliers with access or premiums, while excluding illegal or unethical operators from the supply chain,” Cook explains. She goes on to say that thanks to the project, “producers benefit from greater product control, understanding where their product goes and what its fate and condition is, in addition to a greater understanding of their production processes thanks to the information that is collected and stored remotely and available for other analysis. Buyers benefit from the increased security and confidence of buying from producers that… can confirm the legality, sustainability, and ethical nature of the product they are purchasing. By eliminating the markets for those products that have been able to squeeze into markets due to the opacity and diffusion of existing supply chains, markets can both drive out illegal and unethical practices directly through purchasing choices, but also by influencing government policy through advocacy.”

‘Bait to plate’ connects to an existing blockchain through Viant – a blockchain-based platform for modelling business processes, tracking assets, and building transparent supply chains – created by ConsenSys. Viant increases accessibility of the decentralised software platform, Ethereum, which enables the use of ‘Smart Contracts’ (self-executing contracts with the terms of agreement between the buyer and seller directly written into lines of code for supply chain asset tracking), for enhanced transactional efficiencies. The pilot project is expected to promote sustainable and ethical practices within the tuna value chain and – through scaling – the global seafood sectors.

This article is one of a series of case studies on blockchain applications in agriculture undertaken by Wageningen University and Research on behalf of CTA. See the rest of the collection at https://www.cta.int/en/blockchain.

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