Transparent seafood

What is transparent seafood?

Around 90% of the world's fish stocks have been categorised as fully or over-exploited. Globally, as much as 50% of seafood sourced from the ocean is thrown away or lost in the process. As much as 20% of seafood consumed is mislabelled as the wrong species. Overfishing, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, human rights abuses, and fraud continue to be reported from the global seafood industry. These all show the dire need for improvement in the fishing industry.

As the world transitions towards more sustainable seafood sourcing, it is important that policies and fishing laws are adhered to.  Seafood supply chain transparency can help ensure that those policies and laws are followed through the use of traceability. Traceability is the ability to track a product through all stages of the supply chain, from production, processing and distribution. Key data is collected at each step in the supply chain and this data collected can be used to verify food safety, legality and sustainability of that seafood product. Seafood transparency is becomes a reality when the information collected, such as where and when the fish was caught, who caught the fish, and fishing method used, is fully accessible by retailers and consumers, such that they can independently make a fully informed choice about the seafood they are purchasing. 

Full seafood supply chain traceability and transparency is a major step toward mitigating and eventually eliminating harmful fishing practices. Seafood’s long and complex journey from bait to plate makes it difficult for product information to be recorded accurately, consistently, and shared openly. Luckily there are tools and technology available that can make full traceability and transparency possible that WWF is rigorously pursuing, such as through blockchain technology and our partnership with BCG Digital Ventures to form the OpenSC platform. 

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How does it work?

The most effective way to integrate traceability in the fishing industry is by using electronic methods, such as digitised or cloudbased databases, barcodes, software, or other tools to capture and record product information.

An online traceability software system would be used to log fish or other seafood products entering the supply chain. Unloading Dockets (UD) and other elements would all be digitalised. Digital traceability systems should capture Key Data Elements (KDEs) at critical tracking events (harvest, landing, processing and distribution). An example of how this could be done is giving each fish bin a unique ID to link to the electronic reporting data. The bins are scanned at each tracking event of the supply chain with KDEs uploaded to the traceability software system to log its movement and transformation. All of the information captured in the system can be transferred to a product label and made accessible to consumers by scanning a QR code for example. Fisheries data collected in the process could be overseen by government agencies and business units within those agencies (such as NZ Food Safety) to ensure that the products are legally sourced and there is no fraud taking place.

Blockchain technology is one example of a traceability system. This is an expanding list of electronic records or "blocks", which creates a digital record of information that is transparent, traceable, easily auditable and resistant to tampering or outages.

Because the seafood industry is globally connected with lots of importing and exporting between countries, it is crucial that traceability is standardised. The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) is an international platform established to create global industry standards for seafood traceability. There is currently a lack of standardised KDEs, centralised ways of storing data, consistent modes of communication, uniform verification standards and harmonised government regulations that are the same in all countries, which makes the GDST's task challenging, but necessary if we are to have seafood traceability around the globe. Likewise, the Seafood Alliance for Legality & Traceability (SALT) is another global community working together to explore solutions for legal and sustainable seafood and another great source for more information.

Marine Stewardship Council

Worldwide, WWF takes part in the process to certify fisheries. We engage in the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) institutionally. Part of the role is to prepare independent technical submissions about key conservation concerns and the best practice measures that should be adopted.

Where possible, WWF-New Zealand works to review New Zealand fisheries undergoing assessment as one of a number of stakeholders in the process. Our aim is always to push best practice management.

Currently, six New Zealand fisheries have achieved certification from the MSC:

  • The hoki (Macruronus novaezelandiae) fishery was first certified in March 2001, re-certified in October 2007 and passed its second re-assessment in 2013.

WWF-New Zealand objected to its re-certification because of the impacts on the marine ecosystem and wildlife. Latest data shows the fish stock is well managed but we continue to have concerns about wider impacts. We believe the MSC provides an important mechanism for ongoing monitoring and driving positive change.

  • The albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga) troll was certified in May 2011.
  • The southern blue whiting (Micromesistius australis) pelagic trawl fishery was certified in April 2012.

Initial concerns that the fishery was catching numbers of endangered New Zealand sea lions were addressed and in 2012 catches were reduced to zero in this area. WWF will continue to monitor the issue of sea lion bycatch in the fishery.

  • New Zealand hake (Merluccius australis) trawl was certified in September 2014.
  • New Zealand EEZ ling (Genypterus blacodes) trawl and longline was certified in September 2014.
  • New Zealand orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) was certified in December 2016 for trawls/bottom trawls.

WWF has significant concerns about this certification, due to the use of bottom trawls in this fishery which is causing serious and irreversible harm to sensitive habitats and to ecosystem functions, with no effective strategy in place to ensure that this will change. Until the issues raised by WWF in its appeal are fully addressed, WWF does not recommend the MSC-certified orange roughy fishery as sustainable or moving towards sustainability, nor does WWF encourage businesses and consumers to source from the fishery.