End of Year Reflections Inspire New Year Hope for FishWise’s Traceability Team

Created on Friday, 10 December 2021

FishWise’s mission is to sustain ocean ecosystems and the people who depend on them by transforming global seafood supply chains. We understand that the health of people and ecosystems intersect, and that sustainable seafood is produced at this nexus. By approaching seafood sustainability holistically, FishWise simultaneously strives for an environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, and financially viable seafood industry.

To progress towards this reality, first it is necessary to understand how the seafood was produced and the journey it traveled from bait to plate. This information and the ability to trace seafood throughout supply chains are key to assessing the sustainability and legality of a product. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global challenge that undermines long-term sustainability goals. The Traceability team at FishWise is committed to improving seafood traceability to combat IUU fishing by working with governmental agencies, industry, and fellow non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Here, we chat with the FishWise Traceability team about their work that underpins all of our work and the continued progress towards transforming seafood supply chains.

What are you most proud of in 2021?

Q&A with the Traceability team

Sara Lewis, Traceability Division Director 

This year, FishWise has really embraced our holistic vision and it has influenced the way we collaborate externally and internally. Externally, we have been thoughtful about prioritizing collaborations with partners and projects to expand our impact. For example, we’ve joined forces with Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions, Global Fishing Watch, and the Friends of Ocean Action to develop a Supply Chain Risk Tool to help the industry identify IUU fishing risks and inform decision making.  We hope the tool will be part of an integrated set of risk tools for environmental, social, and legal due diligence. Building partnerships that leverage our industry experience and knowledge of traceability is central to scaling our holistic approach to environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

Internally, we have reimagined how our team works with others to apply traceability knowledge across topics related to business, social responsibility, and counter-IUU fishing. We are a small, but mighty team that constantly innovates on traceability verification. This year, not only are we doing these verification exercises more efficiently, but we are closely collaborating with our Social Responsibility team colleagues.

SarahSarah Caldwell, Traceability Project Director

I’m really proud of the work we’ve been doing with the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT) team in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Over the last year, I’ve been working with the SALT team to build relationships across NGOs, USAID staff in the region, and local traceability experts. It takes time and a lot of conversations to learn about what current traceability work is taking place and the specific challenges in LAC. It is important to take the time to build these relationships, listen to not duplicate efforts, and assist where it is most helpful. Because we have spent the time to build these respectful working relationships, we are now at the point where we have contacts within the government and are leveraging the new Comprehensive Traceability Principles and Pathway to help implement traceability improvements at a national level.

LindsayLindsay Jennings, Traceability Project Director

I’m proud of our work to identify meaningful ways to bring industry voices to the table, especially as conversations continue around improving the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP). The industry has to comply with new traceability regulations but bears the financial, time, and resource burdens of doing so. Our work to facilitate dialogues and bridge the gap between traceability best practice and business reality allows us to make informed recommendations to the government and include industry perspectives. We believe thoughtful multi-stakeholder discussions make policy more effective. Our wide-ranging conversations with the seafood industry and brokers have allowed us to better analyze and unpack their perspectives on recommendations for improved SIMP implementation. By asking companies about their preferred modes of engagement with regulatory agencies, we are better positioned to encourage and facilitate conversations that will spur government action.

NinaNina Rosen, Traceability Project Manager  

I’m excited about our innovative work with FishWise business partners that has evolved to include greater transparency in supply chains to the point of harvest. Transparency of on-the-water activities and the verification of this information has been critically important for tuna fisheries that are inherently difficult to track and tend to have higher IUU fishing risks. Although at-sea transshipment is common in tuna supply chains, this transfer of catch from the fishing vessel to carrier vessel allows the fishing vessels to stay out at sea for longer periods with limited oversight. Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol issuing Withhold Release Orders (WROs) citing illegal activity on tuna vessels. However, with increased access to technology and publicly available data tools, like Global Fishing Watch and their Carrier Vessel Portal, we have been better equipped to verify where products are coming from and mitigate IUU fishing risks.

Looking Forward

Looking ahead to 2022, we are excited to continue building our knowledge about what it means to approach seafood sustainability holistically. We look forward to facilitating conversations across our staff to share the nuances and value of our team’s traceability work as well as learn from others. By working closely with our SALT and Social Responsibility teams, our work becomes stronger and more holistic in nature and we can together start to answer difficult questions such as:

  • How can the return on investment (ROI) of supply chain traceability result in benefits beyond purely economical to include environmental and social benefits?
  • How can we continue integrating social responsibility considerations into our verification exercises and work with industry to improve the policies and practices to support human welfare?

Our team sees the need for government agencies, industry, and NGOs to prioritize data verification and transparency in 2022. Improving transparency will provide more information to identify risks, improve verification, manage resources efficiently, and make better-informed decisions. There is still work to be done to ensure that the product data collected is applied appropriately and verified, while ensuring that findings are translated back to those impacted by the results. Collectively, we must coordinate, build trust in the programs in place, and find better ways to strengthen the quality of data that the U.S. collects. The Traceability team looks forward to working collaboratively with those who also see the value of transparency and verification to combat the global challenge of IUU fishing and make progress towards holistic sustainability.

This year, we gained a deeper understanding about these tools: 

  • Automated Commercial Environment (ACE): We developed relationships with customs brokers, federal agencies, and industry companies to gain insights about how the ACE portal functions and how product information is reported to federal government agencies. A better understanding of the portal allows FishWise to ground truth our recommendations and better identify prioritized areas for SIMP improvement.
  • GFW and Carrier Vessel Portal: We used the publicly available Global Fishing Watch Fishing Effort Map and Carrier Vessel Portal to verify harvest level information: time spent at sea, fishing area, fishing gear, and at-sea transshipment events.
  • Roadmap for Improved Seafood Ethics: The newly relaunched Roadmap for Improved Seafood Ethics (RISE) provides actionable guidance to companies with an 8-step Roadmap, learning resources, and access to a community of human and labor rights experts.
  • Comprehensive Traceability Principles: These Principles and the associated Pathway launched earlier in 2021 and provide guidance for governments interested in initiating, designing, and implementing comprehensive traceability programs.  The Principles are core ideas to keep in mind while designing or improving an electronic traceability, while the Pathway outlines step-by-step guidance and also connects users to resources to support their traceability work.
  • Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) Implementation Roadmap and Toolkit:  This resource includes a set of tools and recommended methodology to help companies evaluate the benefits and challenges of implementing GDST’s 1.0 standards. Using these tools allows industry to develop company-specific plans for business-smart, phased implementation both internally and with supply chain partners.