Couple take a risk with business investment

Kenneth Katafono with his wife Shaunalee and the Minister for Fisheries Semi Koroilavesau at the launch of their TraSeable Solutions at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, last Friday. Picture: SUPPLIED

IN October 2017, a Fijian couple took the last of their savings and ventured out to start TraSeable Solutions a, traceability technology startup despite having close to zero knowledge about business.

It was their self-belief that spurred ICT professional Kenneth Katafono and his wife Shaunalee, a former fisheries officer to start something that would revolutionise the way the fishing industry are monitored using technology.

For those that do not know, traceability is the ability to track something from its origin. In the case of fish — it is being able to track what happens to a fish from the point it is caught at sea, where it is off-loaded, how it was processed, where it was exported to and who it was sold to.

At a time when studies have shown an estimated $US616 million ($F1.3b) being lost annually to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the tuna industry in the Pacific, the couples’ traceability solution couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Our journey began 18 months ago when I participated in a fisheries workshop on traceability for Fiji’s offshore fisheries,” described Mr Katafono.

“The outcome of that workshop basically said that Fiji still had a long way to go in terms of a good traceability system — there were challenges with manpower, collaboration among stakeholders, slow and inefficient manual processes and a lack of good integrated data systems to support that work and Fiji is not alone in having these challenges.

“Following that workshop, over the next couple weeks my wife and I talked a lot about these challenges and we saw an opportunity to use our skills and experience to do something about them.

“Shauna had been a fisheries officer in Samoa and I had spent almost six years in regional fisheries and a decade working in ICT in the Pacific.

“As Pacific Islanders we wanted to take ownership of these challenges to find innovative solutions to them.

“We knew it was possible then and we still know that now. We wanted to inspire other young Pacific Islanders to do the same and to prove that it can be done. We began to reimagine what Pacific fisheries can be.” With their knowledge and experience, the couple ventured out.

“Many entrepreneurs in Fiji will tell you that starting a business here is not easy and it has not been for us, we financed everything out of our own pockets because we believed in what we were doing,” said Mr Katafono.

“And we are still finding out things today — like all sorts of taxes we have to pay,” he joked.

“The work we are doing here in Fiji is helping to usher greater transparency in food supply chains and it can create new value for the fishing and agriculture sectors.”

Last week, their dream came to fruition after they launched their technology startup with the Ministry of Fisheries. Minister for Fisheries, Semi Koroilaveisau admitted the challenges in identifying the source of fish caught and how it was very difficult to follow that fish through the global supply chain.

“Traceability is another tool in the fight against IUU fishing. It is challenging to identify the source of fish caught and very difficult to follow that fish through the global supply chain. “The fisheries global supply chain is often described as being ‘murky’ for a reason,” he said.

He added the ministry have been working with TraSeable Solutions and some fishing companies to digitise the fishing permit application process which would streamline the application and processing of permits.

“Having a digital traceability platform that the ministry can tap into also allows us to enhance our verification of fishing catch by the Fiji fishing fleet and those that off-load in our ports.

“These innovations complement other efforts that the industry has been involved in including the use of electronic monitoring or video cameras on fishing vessels where the cameras record everything that happens on a boat during a fishing trip.

“And at the end of the trip the video data is retrieved and analysed by our staff.

“This adds to the already extensive amount of data we are capturing about our offshore fisheries.

“We need good digital systems to integrate and analyse all this data to give us good information that will help us in managing our fishery,” the minister said.

For now its no turning back for Mr Katafono and his wife as they plan for more projects in the coming months. Since last year they have been re-imagining how the technology they have been working with can enhance the agriculture sector.

Some of their projects have gone on to be the first in the world to apply blockchain technology to longline fisheries and the lessons they learnt were
shared by their team to other blockchain projects in the region and around the world.

Some of the countries they’ve spoken to include South Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia, Belize, the US and as far away as France.

“In two weeks we will be in Thailand to share our blockchain in fisheries experiences at the Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technology conference,”
said Mr Katafono.

“Last December we introduced our TraSeable Farms concept at the Pacifi c Agri-Hack Lab in Tonga where we were one of three winners. With our 5000 euro ($F12,067) prize money we will be building and introducing TraSeable Farms in Fiji this year.”

So what are his advice to Fijian entrepreneurs out there?

“To fellow or budding entrepreneurs, especially in technology in Fiji and the Pacifi c, I’d like to leave you with a challenge.

“Dare to dream big. “Dare to tackle the great challenges of our times in our oceans and on our islands. Learn from our successes and our failures. Use
it to fuel your innovative ideas. Dare to imagine a better Pacific,” he said with finality.

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