Tracer can tell you where your seafood came from

From boat to plate, tech start-ups aim to solve mys­ter­ies of sea

- El­iz­a­beth Weise @eweise USA TO­DAY

In an era when con­sumers in­creas­ingly want to eat sus­tain­able, so­cially re­spon­si­ble food, trac­ing fish from the boat to the plate is a holy grail in the seafood in­dus­try.

The prob­lem: It’s hard to track a fish from the time it’s caught un­til it gets to the seafood counter. White fish fil­let from a sus­tain­ably har­vested, well­cared-for fish­ery looks re­mark­ably like one from an over-har­vested fish­ery op­er­ated by badly-treated work­ers.

Not in­fre­quently, even the fish name on the pack­age or the menu is wrong — fish mis­brand­ing is a prob­lem in some over­fished or high value species. Tilapia, Pa­cific ocean perch, yel­low­tail rock­fish and white bass are fre­quently sub­sti­tuted for pop­u­lar red snap­per, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the non-profit Oceana.

Track­ing fish aims to clear up these mys­ter­ies of the sea. While not yet ready for wide re­lease, tech com­pa­nies, start-ups and non-prof­its are build­ing sys­tems that do just that. They hope the ben­e­fits will get passed down to fish­ing op­er­a­tors as con­sumers pay more for fish they can trust.

“Right now there’s a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for seafood fraud you can drive a truck through. Track­ing makes it smaller. It’s not 100% fool­proof, but it’s more port­hole-sized,” said Eric Enno Tamm, gen­eral man­ager for trace­abil­ity ini­tia­tives at Canadi- an non-profit Ecotrust Canada.

Ecotrust’s ThisFish trace­abil­ity soft­ware plat­form, for in­stance, al­lows fish­er­men to at­tach a uniquely coded track­ing tag to each fish or lot of fish as it is caught or brought ashore. That code — read via a smart­phone or com­puter — fol­lows the fish as it moves from the dock, the pro­cess­ing plant and the su­per­mar­ket.

The in­for­ma­tion is trans­mit­ted to the cloud, which has brought down costs, Tamm says.

Fish and shell­fish of­ten are har­vested in the open sea by ships un­der the flags of many na­tions, brought to dock in ports around the world, some­times pro­cessed in two or more other coun­tries and fi­nally sold in yet an­other. Be­ing able to say where a given fil­let or shrimp came from of­ten is im­pos­si­ble.

That knowl­edge, how­ever, is key to be­ing able to tell a buyer, a consumer or a gov­ern­ment the fish is what it says it is and was sus­tain­ably caught by work­ers who were prop­erly com­pen­sated.

But only in the past few years has tech­nol­ogy come se­ri­ously to bear on the prob­lem.

“Peo­ple are al­ways say­ing ‘You mean you can’t do that yet?’ ” said Te­jas Bhatt, direc­tor of the global food trace­abil­ity cen­ter at the In­sti­tute of Food Tech­nol­o­gists in Chicago.

Which tech so­lu­tions will end up be­ing adopted by the seafood in­dus­try is still far from clear.

“Once the stan­dards are in place, com­pa­nies will know what they need to do and im­ple­men­ta­tion will be able to ramp up very quickly,” Bhatt said. For now, “it’s the wild West out there.”

 ?? ECOTRUST ?? The ThisFish mo­bile app lets a cus­tomer trace the course of the seafood they’re buy­ing.
ECOTRUST The ThisFish mo­bile app lets a cus­tomer trace the course of the seafood they’re buy­ing.

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