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Bid to combat illegal fishing

Filipe Naigulevu
Monday, January 29, 2018

THE combat against illegal, unreported and unregulated tuna fishing in the Pacific has reached a new hallmark with the development of a new technology aimed at strengthening transparency and tuna traceability.

An initiative spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand, has seen the use of blockchain technology to stamp out illegal fishing in the regional tuna fishing industry.

A first for the Pacific and Fiji, WWF has partnered with US-based software company ConsenSys and information and communications technology implementer TraSeable Solutions to help tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji to track tuna from when it was caught through to the supply chain processes using blockchain technology.

According to TraSeable Solutions founder and managing director Kenneth Katafono, they had developed a proof of concept from the pilot project and were now working to get it commercialised and for companies to adopt it.

As Mr Katafono explained, blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology, is essentially an immutable, tamper-proof record of transactions stored in a distributed network of blockchain nodes where blocks of data are written into it and are linked/chained to the previous record.

"It is much like a database except that it isn't centralised and controlled by any authority but maintained as a peer-to-peer network. Blockchain technology is the underlying platform for Bitcoin, and other crypto currencies," he said.

With the new technology, Mr Katafono said consumers could also find out information about the fish product through scanning a QR code.

"It will be able to prove the sustainability and the legality of your fish right from where it was caught through to the supply chain," he said.

"You'll be able to verify everything that happened to the fish along the process in the supply chain. That information is available even to the consumer.

"Eventually we'd like to have consumers buying fish products with QR codes on it where they can scan and be able to see the story where the fish originated from, who caught, on which vessel, how it was processed and who handled it.

"So basically, when you write data to the block chain that data cannot be corrupted by any other party and it is also transparent to everyone because it is public. Blockchain technology has the potential for disintermediation (cutting out intermediaries/middle-men) in any kind of transaction. These properties are very important in bringing transparency to supply chains."

Mr Katafono said there was a massive potential for this technology in the Pacific Islands' tuna industry with different possible applications.

"We are using the technology to show the provenance of fish - so basically keeping a record of a fish from the point of capture right, through landing, processing, export, and retail to the end-buyer," he said.

"Through the use of this technology consumers of fish will be able to know the 'story' of their fish from bait-to-plate.

"This is important because along the way key information on sustainable fishing practice, legal authorisations to fish, details of processing facilities, etc are captured and recorded on the block chain against that fish. This information cannot be tampered with in any way."

It is also understood that WWF is in discussions with tuna retailers to complete the "bait-to-plate" cycle with the hopes of creating a QR code for consumers on tuna tins that would tell them if the tuna had been sourced sustainably and ethically.

Mr Katafono said the initiative came about through the WWF and Sea Quest (Fiji) Ltd partnering up to be part of the beta project trials of ConsenSys' supply chain blockchain application called Viant.

"ConsenSys is a leading blockchain technology company from the US that are involved in many interesting projects around the world using blockchain. My traceability tech startup, TraSeable Solutions, came on-board to assist in implementing this project working with all the partners in seeing how the technology could be applied to the tuna industry.

"This project has been ongoing since around September 2017 where we've been trialing it and refining the technology and processes needed to support it," he said.

Essentially, what the new technology means is that tracking will start as soon as the tuna is caught, which is attached with a reusable RFID tag on the vessel.

Then devices fitted on the vessel, at the dock and in the processing factory will then detect the tags and automatically upload information to the blockchain.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a recognised global problem which undermines the integrity of responsible fisheries management arrangements and results in lost value to coastal states.

Previous studies have shown that the effects of IUU fishing are often hardest felt in developing coastal states heavily reliant on fishing for income.

Mr Katafono highlighted that the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) had commissioned a study for quantifying illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the Pacific tuna fishery.

"It found that the challenges in the Pacific are largely related to the unreported and unregulated aspects of fishing and not so much the illegal component," he said.

"A lot of these challenges are related to accessing accurate data on fisheries like catch information and being able to verify that through monitoring, control, and surveillance (mcs) activities.

"Blockchain technology has the potential to be applied to these challenges to bring greater transparency to the tuna fishing industry."

But while the new technology's effect may be difficult or too soon to predict, it is expected to disrupt many industries, particularly the tuna industry.

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