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Diving into Sustainable Seafood

Published onJul 11, 2019
Diving into Sustainable Seafood

Over the past 6 months, I’ve begun a journey into the complex labyrinth of fishery supply chains by first exploring the vast landscape of traceability technology being piloted (specifically, blockchain technology).

SeaWeb Seafood Summit, Bangkok

Fast forward to June 2019 and I’m headed to the SeaWeb Seafood Summit, where the mission of the gathering is to “Be at the forefront of seafood sustainability to define success and advance solutions that will be seen across all levels of the supply chain and in marketplaces around the world.” The Summit was held in Bangkok, where $5.8b worth of seafood processing is located. A majority of the world’s tuna, squid, sardines, shrimps and prawns are packed or canned and exported from Bangkok [1]. At the summit, topics were covered from “Financing the Transition to Sustainable Seafood Production” to “Combatting IUU (Illegal Unreported, Unregulated) Fishing through A Rapid Increase in Transparency”. There was a heavy theme set on discussing slavery in the seafood industry, although this wasn’t too surprising since this has been made a priority in the industry after the NY Times released their exposé of the enslaved migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar for the Thai fishing sector back in 2015.

‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock

Men who have fled servitude on fishing boats recount beatings and worse as nets are cast for the catch that will become pet food and livestock feed.

Another reflective moment for Thailand was brought up around April of the same year by the EU. Being one of the largest importers of seafood from SE Asia, the EU dished Thailand a “yellow card” for “not sufficiently tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”. Had Thailand not heeded the EU’s warning, Thailand could have been facing “a complete import ban of marine fisheries products into the EU”[2]. As of January 2019, the EU has lifted the warning. After a week-long summit of talks and panels, I had the opportunity to see the fruits of this “yellow card” - a Port-in Port-out center (PIPO). PIPO centers are essentially passport checkpoints for incoming fish and the fishermen, before they reach the main port where they sell their catch to market. In response to the yellow card, Thailand aggressively strengthened their PIPO centers, internally with more staff and externally with more centers closer to larger ports. The Thai Embassy discuss in their blog about PIPO centers being where authorities now perform “inspection [of the captain’s] handbook, which includes inspections of vessel documents, fishing gear and catch on board, and seafarers working on the vessel”.

The ship coming into the PIPO center for verification

A fishermen waiting to sort the days catch while the rest of the crew (behind him) in life vests pull out their passports and permits for the PIPO authorities

The summit was an excellent toe-dip into what “sustainability” means in the context of this $400b industry. Along the way, I networked with some incredible “fishheads” (aka experts beyond my years in this field) from Future of Fish, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and Fishwise (and there are so many more). I was adamant in asking other conference participants what they thought was missing in the traceability technology available to them in the fishing sector. I eventually found other techies working in this industry like Atato and Streamr - both interested in using decentralized networking in the fishing sector to better support the fishermen or the fish supply chain.

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