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Norpac Fisheries Latest News

Sissel Waage and Thomas Kraft

In the fast-moving seafood industry, real-time traceability could help identify supply chain, brand and reputational risks The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh underscored the importance of knowing the origins of consumer goods. Fortunately, tracing product points of origin is not a new area of work. A growing set of methods are available for tracking where goods come from, across a wide variety of consumer products.

Traceability is underway within sustainable forestry certification programmes (such as the Forest Stewardship Council), organic agriculture labelling, and in apparel (such as the Honest By label), and perhaps least well known, with seafood.

For companies, the lack of real-time fisheries data can result in ill-advised sourcing decisions. The reality is simple: without the timely data electronic traceability provides, all seafood retailers and restaurants are at risk of sourcing from collapsing fisheries which could have damaging effects on their brands.

During 2012, the Vietnam tuna fishery, formerly a longline fishery, changed to a handline fishery in under a year. This shift had dramatic ramifications as fishers’ costs were greatly reduced, but so too was product quality. Overnight, the fishery was devalued, and access to necessary data was not available. Markets were lost and livelihoods adversely affected. Real-time data would have been invaluable to understanding the implications of this change.

In the seafood industry, there is an enormous opportunity to expand traceability– to identify and manage both supply chain risks as well as associated brand and reputational risks. One example is a scalable electronic system developed at Norpac Fisheries Export. Since 2002, Norpac has developed and refined a new system to allow tracking not only of the raw material, but the finished products – from location of catch through to the end user.

Within this traceability system, there is data capture that includes fishing area, vessel name, species, weight, grade, logistics chain, finished cut(s), yield, temperature, and more. Additional data on the length or colour can be included, indicating sex and maturity of the seafood. Fish cut into smaller pieces, such as fillets, can be “reassembled” electronically and traced to the vessel, or through to end users.

All this information is available in real time, and helps reduce waste, improve yield, enhance management, control quality, and empower employees. It allows managers to cost products, monitor value and inventory, as well as improve distribution and adjust production volumes.

The information could be accessed through electronic devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, smart phone) and offer fishers, scientists, marine resource managers, business managers and consumers an opportunity to access information previously unavailable.

In the best sense of the word, this traceability system is an example of disruptive innovation and part of the growing area of work that leverages IT for enabling sustainability. It can change the reality that fishery scientists often work with information that is dated, which is problematic as fishery conditions change rapidly, as do fishing methods and gear.

Given the serious implications of working with inadequate data, why don’t more players in the seafood industry adopt this kind of traceability system? The barrier to adoption may be partly historical momentum (and inertia), or a lack of familiarity with opportunities to improve IT systems.

In the face of growing consumer interest in points of origin, as well as corporate risk associated with not knowing about goods sourcing locations, the time for adopting IT systems that allow for traceability is now.

It is not surprising that retailers—particularly grocers and restaurateurs—are recognising traceability as a key component of brand enhancement and risk mitigation, food safety and consumer confidence. Some leading companies have commitments to sustainable fisheries.

Ahold, which owns Stop&Shop and Giant among other grocery retail outlets and states that: “We realise the importance of working with and supporting fisheries and aquaculture operations that are taking the appropriate steps toward seafood sustainability.”

Darden, which owns Red Lobster and a variety of other restaurants, says: “Seafood is the single largest item in Darden’s overall ‘food basket,’ making up more than 30% of the total food we buy. We have a vested interest in ensuring that the supply of seafood on which we rely remains available, affordable and meets the quality and safety standards we expect.”

McDonald’s says: “Over the past 10 years, McDonald’s commitment to sustainable sourcing has been best exemplified by our global Sustainable Fisheries programme. We have global purchasing standards and perform annual assessments of all suppliers by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). As a result, 100% of our fish worldwide currently comes from MSC-certified fisheries.”

Traceability in seafood is gaining traction, as companies increasingly recognise the business opportunity. The ability to implement lasting and impactful change is at hand, the technology exists and is field tested.

The time has come to apply lessons learned, as in the Rana Plaza incident, to our seafood supply chain. We can reduce waste, improve viability, empower fishers, enhance management, and improve sustainability in wild capture fisheries. Companies, corporate foundations, and philanthropic foundations have the opportunity to quickly scale traceability throughout the private sector – and the time is now.

Longline fishing companies catching adult bigeye in the western Pacific Ocean are likely to face restrictions as growing concern surrounds the stock status of this species. 

While strong efforts from the WCPFC have already been focused towards reducing the amount of fishing on FADs by purse seine fleets, environmental group Greenpeace says that longline fishing companies are also likely to face restriction measures.

Thomas Kraft, Managing Director of Norpac Fisheries Export in Hawaii, one of the main catchers of bigeye via longline said: “Targeting longline fleets, which catch predominantly mature bigeye tuna is being penny wise but pound foolish. Purse seine effort and catch is exponentially greater, and the observer data, as well as the recent ISSF publications, squarely place the problem of bigeye overfishing on juvenile catch by purse seine vessels utilizing FADs to capture skipjack tuna.”
Recent reports have shown the PNA Secretariat raising concern over the sustainability of the bigeye stocks. The Secretariat is due to present draft measures to a critical working group of the WCPFC. Among other proposals they call for a gradual cut on longline fishing.
But Thomas Kraft does not agree that this is where the solution lies: “It may be a bit disingenuous to now target longliners, while continually turning a blind eye to the crux of the problem, and where a solution to overfishing of bigeye is truly achievable.
“It may just be a game of big money versus independent, small businesses (which many longline operators are). Big businesses make huge profits off FAD fishing and the by-catch of juvenile tuna adds to that profitability. Money talks and small businesses walk…the plank.”
Regulations could have severe impact on the over 25 nations fishing for bigeye using longline vessels in this region. According to the WCPFC, in 2011 they caught a combined total of over 63,000 tons of this lucrative fish.

US – The first ever annual Sustainable Seafood Week has taken place in New York City. During the week, Village Fishmonger and Future of Fish hosted an exclusive hospitality industry round table at the Institute of Culinary Education to spark dialogue around how sustainable seafood – or “story fish” – can accelerate brand value, reports Øistein Thorsen, principal consultant of TheFishSites’s sister organisation trie.

Matthew Quetton of Future of Fish kicked off the roundtable by linking the disruptions happening in the seafood supply chain with what took place in the music industry a few years ago.

The digital music revolution allowed emerging, niche and alternative artists to get their music in front of audiences. The same, he argued, is happening to fish. Through what Mr Quetton coined “story fish” producers and fishers are able to add value to their product by telling its story and hence creating a deep sense of connection between the customer and the fish. This process – often referred to as the winefication of products – has played itself out for other commodities like coffee and chocolate over the last decade to some benefit to the farmers.

Chef Evan Hanczor, at Brooklyn’s Parish Hall restaurant, spoke in favor of trust and close personal relationships in the supply chain to ensure that the “story-fish” makes it to the menu. “It is straight from the sea to the table,” he said. “My middle man knows the fishermen personally, and is able to tell me exactly what today’s catch is and bring it to the restaurant.”

Another, more technology based approach, was offered by Keith Flett of Open Ocean Trading who said his system would “replace trust with accountability through legally binding forward contracts”. His company has developed an online trading platform connecting the fishers directly with large-scale purchasers, like institutional buyers and retailers.

By offering forward contracts for specific species and volumes Open Ocean hope to make ‘precision buying’ the norm and hence change the fact that fishers’ only hedge traditionally has been volume. This system, Mr Flett argued, will raise margins across the supply chain and reduce waste as it allows fishers to respond directly to quality attributes and as well as provide pre-pricing signals telling them when to stop fishing.

This is an example of the way Future of Fish believes technology can play a crucial role in shaking up the industry and carrying the story of the fish; a story about origin, the state of fisheries and the people and communities that depend on it for their living. This same technology is also the key to ensure traceability.

Thomas Kraft of Norpac Fisheries Exports said his company developed a digital traceability scheme primarily to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fish ending up in their value chain. “We wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t make business sense,” he said. However, after implementing it he found that the system started answering sustainability related questions he hadn’t even thought of asking – from the state of the fisheries, the size and type of by-catch, to the efficiency of his processing plants.

Combined with the efforts of some chefs and seafood companies’ efforts in changing taste preferences and use more so-called trash-fish or under utilized species in their products, traceability and innovative trading platforms are vital in creating a sizeable sustainability market where there until now has not been one.

However, even amongst the sustainability innovators of the industry there is a sense that one cannot sell a fish on sustainability alone. Sean Dixon, founder of the start-up Village Fishmongers which brings fresh fish directly to its members in New York City a couple of times a week, said he see sustainability strictly in terms of the status and viability of the fish stock.

“Sustainability for us is a resource management and economics metrics,” he continued, “from then on we leave sustainability to one side and start telling the story. The story about the fisher, the fish, the species, the location, its freshness and its taste.”

The great opportunity that the seafood sustainability movement is slowly catching, but which the mainstream actors have yet to exploit, is that the most sustainable fish might also be the cheapest.

There are thousands of species in the sea that could be farmed, however the industry has focused on only a handful. Often these are the ones at the top of their food chains, like salmon. Creating a market for the under utilized species, like porgy and dogfish and thousands others, might break open a new frontier. A frontier where by-catch is a thing of the past and where the most sustainable offering on the menu comes at a discount price, rather than a premium price.

Leveraging the public conversation catalyzed at the first annual Sustainable Seafood Week, Village Fishmonger and Future of Fish will be hosting an exclusive hospitality ​industry round table at the Institute of Culinary Education to open up the​ dialogue around how sustainable ​seafood can accelerate your brand.​

This two-hour session will bring together leading national sustainable seafood advocates, food service consultants, distributors and chefs, together with keystone hospitality buyers from NYC to explore growing opportunities in sustainable seafood.

Panelists including Chef Evan Hanczor of Parish Hall, Thomas Kraft of Norpac Fisheries Exports, Keith Flett of Open Ocean Trading, Sean Dixon of Village Fishmonger and Matthew Quetton of Future of Fish will share insights into how market leadership and customer value can be accelerated through rapidly emerging opportunities in sourcing, preparing and serving the best of the world’s sustainable seafood.