From shore to plate: Tracking tuna on the Blockchain

Provenance pilot blockchain technology for tracing yellowfin and skipjack tuna fish in South Pacific from catch to consumer.

Mobile, Blockchain technology and smart tagging were used to track fish caught by fishermen with verified social sustainability claims. The goal was to aid robust proof of compliance to standards at origin and along the chain, prevent the “double-spend” of certificates and explore how these new technologies could form the basis for an open system for traceability powering consumer-facing transparency for food and other physical goods. The pilot was successful in tracking responsibly-caught fish and key social claims down the chain to export. Provenance's ambition was not to demonstrate yet another digital interface, but a solution to the grave need for data interoperability: for tracking items and claims securely, end-to-end, in a highly robust, yet accessible format without the need for a centralised data management system. It was found that blockchains meet these needs and offer an exciting paradigm shift necessary for traceability in such vast complex supply chains as the SE Asia fishing industry.

Blockchains for supply chain transparency

The global system of trade and commerce that sits behind our purchases is rarely something we think about, yet it spans the earth and impacts the wellbeing of people and environments. Provenance was established to enable trusted transparency of key social and environmental indicators along even the most complex chains of custody, to incentivize ethical labour practice and environmental preservation, aid standards compliance and eradicate fraudulent reporting. We use blockchain technology, along with mobile and smart tags, to track physical products and verified attributes from origin to point of sale (POS). Provenance used the same p2p technology to track a tuna fish caught in Maluku, Indonesia from landing to factory and beyond - demonstrating how blockchain technology can enable supply chain transparency and traceability.

South East Asia is the largest tuna-producing region, ideal for assessing opportunities to drastically increase transparency in fish and seafood supply chains. Conducting research and deploying our prototype in the region allowed us to understand the problems, assess technology opportunities and iterate both the design and implementation of our application for building an important part of an impactful and sustainable software system for end-to-end (e2e) traceability.

When your fish supper supports slavery

Human rights abuses, overfishing, fraud, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fish: a number of practices in the seafood industry are compromising the wellbeing of environments, wildlife and people all over the world. According to The Guardian, “slaves forced to work for no pay for years at a time under threat of extreme violence are being used in Asia in the production of seafood sold by major US, British and European retailers.” In Indonesia, more than 60 million people live within coastal communities and tuna fisheries are a major source of employment and foreign exchange. Particularly in the South Pacific, however, tuna fishing is complicated by tuna fishing vessels, with most of the fish catches purse seiners unrecorded.

At the same time, businesses operating responsibly are not rewarded for their efforts. Pole and line and handline fishing are recognised as more socially and environmentally sustainable (Gillet, 2014) - with a far lower risk of slavery and illegal fishing practices (Gillet, 2015). Small-scale pole and line and handline fishermen, however, face many challenges in today’s system: overfishing causes decline of their catches, leading to more money spent on fuel and time spent out on the ocean. They also face increasing competition from larger vessels that may be fishing illegally, possibly with forced labour onboard (Gillet, 2015; USAID, 2016).

A justified market premium or preferred market access is essential to support these socially and environmentally responsible practices. There is a rallying call from customers, governments, NGOs and businesses towards the end of the supply chain for information about the origin and social standards of fish and seafood products - to prove their compliance to regulation (e.g. no slavery) and voluntary social and environmental standards to warrant premiums or preferential access. To do so, it is also essential to know each link in lengthy supply chains – the chain of custody of a product from capture to customer, which is what we refer to as traceability. With current systems however, effective interoperability of data along the supply chain poses a large technical challenge.

A centralized system, with a governing third party was, until recently, the only conceivable way to achieve data and transaction transparency. The truth is that no single organization can be responsible for making data throughout a whole supply chain transparent. Third parties like NGOs or industry associations, rarely manage even one of these two aspects of transparency, and even if they could, they would become a single point of weakness. This would make them and their operations a vulnerable target for bribery, social engineering, or targeted hacking. Adoption of such a transaction platform among various third parties would add further difficulties, as the shared costs for set-up and operation would be difficult to apportion and agree on, and benefits to each party are not usually made transparent.

Inclusive solution for global traceability

What if we could share the same truth between all stakeholders - fishermen, factories, certifiers and consumers, without giving any of them a backdoor to the system? Blockchain offer precisely this opportunity. This project explored new methods for enabling traceability - a secure flow of information enabling the full chain of custody to be accessed, including key social attributes such as fishing method, vessel type and compliance data.

Building on the blockchain enables a global p2p network to form: an open platform that can deliver neutrality, reliability and security, particularly in grassroots trade.

  • It makes it possible to avoid double-spending of certificates and claims, which is otherwise impossible without a trusted third party
  • It acts as the base layer of truth that everyone throughout the chain can refer to in a trusted way
  • It allows the definition of unbreakable rules called smart contracts that will be enforced by the protocol itself

This project tested our beta chain-of-custody application to estimate and optimize its impact for slavery-free, sustainable practices in the fishing industry.

About AutoBlock

AutoBlock is a Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence technology incubator located in Cambridge, MA, USA. AutoBlock provides innovative technology solutions for the Supply chain industries.

AutoBlock has been operating for the past six year in Cambridge in the Kendall Square area located right across Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan school of Business. AutoBlock is the largest Blockchain technology Meetup group in the Boston area with 4000 members and holds community meetings every Thursday evening from 6-PM at the Cambridge Innovation Center located at One Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02142

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