Blockchain technology – Could this be the supply chain’s weakest link?


By Bradley Soule, OceanMind

The work to eradicate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing from the world’s oceans has been painstakingly undertaken by organisations and governments for many, many years now. Like agricultural livestock farming in previous years, the world has come to realise that it is important to know where their seafood comes from, how it was caught, if it is legally compliant and safe to eat. 

The seafood industry is now making huge efforts to scrutinise its supply chains, not just to ensure their products are free from IUU seafood but is also free from human trafficking and suffering that takes place while working at sea. 

Sustainably, ethically sourced and legally compliant seafood is becoming part of an organisation’s brand values and many want to demonstrate this in their operational processes.   

Traceability in the supply chain is a major part of this and there has been a tremendous focus on Blockchain as an answer. While Blockchain has a role to play, it is not a magic solution that will solve an organization’s concerns about seafood sourcing. This belief that Blockchain confirms the true source of a piece of information is misplaced and has become an issue in many sectors, not just seafood.  

Blockchain can be imagined as a pipeline for data that prevents any leakage coming out and any contamination going in. Think about it in the same way as a waste pipe in your home. Whatever goes in is carried along safely until it comes out the other end. But contaminated water in means contaminated water out. It is the same with Blockchain technology. False information that goes in will be carried along the supply chain securely until the end of the line with false information coming back out.   

Today, the seafood sector relies heavily on documentation and self-certification to prove provenance of catch. Blockchain does not and will not validate this information as being legitimate, it will merely protect that information as it moves through the supply chain regardless of the information’s accuracy. 

Traceability in the supply chain has never been a technology problem. There are many suitable technologies that can be used to securely and safely track product moving through a supply chain. Blockchain is a great new innovation that has some advantages over traditional solutions (and some disadvantages), however the biggest problem faced by traceability systems remains the people providing information in. 

One way to demonstrate legitimacy of catch, the actual issue at hand for questions of IUU fishing, is third party validation. Third party validation involves an independent organisation cross checking the catch information with licencing registries, positional data and any interactions that take place with other vessels at sea. Refrigeration vessels (known as reefers) take catch onboard from other fishing vessels at sea (known as transhipment), but the captain cannot guarantee they are taking only legally caught fish. They must use the documentation provided by the fishing vessel as proof.  With third party validation, every fishing vessel that interacts with the reefer at sea is checked for compliance. If there are any discrepancies, these are reported and can be acted on.  In some ports, for example, a discrepancy of this nature can prevent the catch being off loaded under the authority of the Port State Measures Agreement. In the supply chain, this type of discrepancy will influence a negative purchasing decision, again causing a significant loss of business to the fishing company. 

Without independent validation, the information held within the Blockchain system simply cannot be trusted or relied upon, and it is important that all seafood supply chain managers understand this to prevent misplaced hopes on an IT solution that won’t actually solve the issue at hand. 

For more information about OceanMind visit www.OceanMind.Global.

About OceanMind

OceanMind is a not-for-profit organisation working to increase the sustainability of fishing globally by providing curated insights and intelligence into fishing and fishing compliance to those who can most effectively use it. OceanMind supports authorities and the seafood supply chain, providing the expertise and knowledge needed to more effectively enforce existing regulations, and to more responsibly source from fishers. OceanMind’s team of expert fisheries analysts curate the insights generated through computational analysis including machine learning, and deliver intelligence to clients.