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The war against IUU fishing in the Coral Triangle goes high-tech

Posted on March, 21 2018

Technology, and its role in fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Coral Triangle, was a focus of the 3rd Coral Triangle Fishers Forum in the Philippines. WWF experts discuss options, ranging from social media and technical training to the latest blockchain approach.
Technology, and its role in fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Coral Triangle, was a focus of the 3rd Coral Triangle Fishers Forum in the Philippines. WWF experts discuss options, ranging from social media and technical training to the latest blockchain approach.

GPS tracking devices, electronic logbooks, solar-powered data collection, and the new blockchain supply chain traceability—these were some of the technological innovations in the war against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing which were cited at the 3rd Coral Triangle Fishers Forum (CTFF) held in Iloilo, the Philippines in 2017.

Attended by some 120 participants, from fisherfolk and fish processors to technology providers and fisheries experts, the forum included objectives such as sharing experiences and knowledge on IUU reduction and traceability in the Coral Triangle, as well as presenting opportunities for pursuing successful models.

In a communiqué drafted after the event, participants recognized “that digital, electronic, or satellite-based technologies can be some of the measures to address IUU fishing,” but also that “many technologies available to combat IUU fishing are sophisticated and costly to be acquired, utilised, and maintained.”

“In our part of the world there are many challenges, including lack of sophisticated traceability systems, and a general resistance among many processors and fishers to adopt new technology, as well as the cost of that technology,” says Keith Symington, Marine and Fisheries Advisor of the WWF Coral Triangle Programme. “Indeed, there are donors and foundations that have been, and would be willing to, fund the application of anti-IUU technology. This, however, is not sustainable for the long term, unless industry and governments can incorporate these costs as part of doing business.”

Symington believes the most fundamental issues still have less to do with technology. “I feel the biggest single hurdle has been lack of clear and strong legal and regulatory measures to combat IUU within many countries, and the lack of political will among some governments to enact such measures and to ensure compliance. A close second would be the reluctance of some elements of the chain—fishers and domestic processors, especially—to adopt systems, but this is also tied to the lack of government regulations and poor enforcement.”

Scaling up

Still, scaling up the piloting of innovative technologies, such as electronic traceability systems, electronic catch documentation systems (CDS), and electronic observer systems, while still adapting to an area’s needs, is a necessity, considering the volume of information to be dealt with in fisheries.

That’s the impetus behind the Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project, a joint initiative of WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Australia, and WWF-Fiji, working with software technology company ConsenSys, information and communications technology (ICT) implementer TraSeable, and tuna fishing and processing company SeaQuest Fiji Ltd. The project was launched recently in Fiji, where blockchain technology is being trialled to trace the supply chain of SeaQuest Fiji’s fresh and frozen tuna.

WWF-Australia conducted a workshop in July 2017 to explore specific use cases for blockchain, reports Duncan Williams, Programme Manager for the Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood Programme of WWF-Pacific. “An early conversation with members of ConsenSys led to substantive research into the potential of blockchain to provide for transparent and traceable solutions for supply chain tracking.”

A blockchain can be described as a virtual, digital ledger that is widely distributed and decentralized. “Very simply, a combination of electronic devices is used to capture information, which starts when a fish is first caught,” explains Williams. “A sensor or tag is affixed when the fish comes on board the vessel, which follows the fish and registers automatically at various scanning devices positioned on the vessel, at the dock, and in the processing facility.” Once the product enters the processing facility and is processed into various products, it will get another tag that will feed information into the same blockchain, thus tracking the product to its “ultimate fate,” Williams says.

Living up to hype

Like any new technology, while blockchain holds promise in addressing issues of supply chain transparency and traceability, it has yet to live up to the hype surrounding its recent introduction. As a result, some critics insist that blockchain is a long way from solving the problems of seafood traceability and, by extension, IUU fishing.

Williams believes the technology could still translate well to other fields. “While results from the pilot are still not available, I believe as long as you are using an accepted blockchain technology, it offers greater levels of efficiency and rationalised and verifiable information flows which contribute to improved transparency. When used with other technologies such as sensors and tags, blockchain can record, track, and verify not just financial transactions, but virtually everything of value.”

Such technology would be a timely response to market demands, as well. “Seafood buyers have long called for an effective way to reduce the reputational and brand risk that comes with an obscure supply chain that could include producers engaged in illegal or unethical practices,” Williams says. “Thus, seafood buyers, through the supply chain choices they make, hold a strong influence over producers engaged in that supply chain. Blockchain enables a single source of truth for chain of custody, and for WWF priority commodities to be traced along entire supply chains, from producer to consumer.”

As WWF-New Zealand CEO Livia Esterhazy stated in a previous interview for the project launch, “Soon a simple scan of tuna packaging using a smartphone app will tell the story of a tuna fish—where and when the fish was caught, by which vessel and fishing method.”

Symington believes, however, while blockchain is a great idea, it may be better to make full use of proven and working technologies first, as well as to tackle more basic issues, such as ongoing awareness-raising on IUU issues. “This is about first securing a strong level of political will and industry buy-in, and also ensuring that the IUU issue is addressed in a multi-sectoral way across all relevant agencies.

“Given that blockchain is based on decentralization and the transparent sharing of data, it is certainly attractive to the anti-IUU agenda, and may indeed be revolutionary,” he concludes. “But we need to recognize the varying levels of sophistication across different seafood supply chains in the region today. While we need to keep testing and further understanding blockchain, we shouldn’t lose sight of the established tools—such as the traceability and CDS demonstrated in the CTFF marketplace—that meet our anti-IUU goals.”

SeaQuest Fiji chief executive officer Brett Haywood (centre), with TraSeable Solutions founder and managing director Kenneth Katafono (left) and WWF Australia chief executive officer Dermot O'Gorman.
© Shiri Ram / WWF-Australia