When you browse the fish counter or order off a seafood menu, can you be sure the species label is accurate and the fish was caught or farmed ethically? In many cases, the answer is no. A 2014 report in Marine Policy estimates that over 20 percent of wild-captured seafood imported into the U.S. comes from illegal fisheries, and a 2016 report from Oceana estimates that, on average, 20 percent of seafood worldwide is mislabeled. The opaque supply chain of many seafood products can hide a host of problems, including human rights abuses in the labor force, fishing in protected areas or of protected species and environmental degradation.
But change is coming. Entrepreneurs in the seafood industry worldwide are creating ways to make supply chains more transparent and seafood products and processes more easily traceable.
Envision a fleet out on the Pacific, catching fish that will change hands five to seven times before landing on your plate. What if each boat were equipped with a small waterproof transmitter recording catch data – date, time, species, location, weight – that followed the fish all the way to purchase? And technology much sharper than the human eye verified the exact species? What if marketing and packaging captured the fish’s nutritional content, capture date and journey?
Solutions like these are already in place at a small scale, and traceability and transparency will soon be the price of admission to the seafood counter.
Improved government regulations, expanding consumer curiosity and technological innovation are all converging to make this happen. Seafood could be like coffee. Remember when it was just coffee? Now we can find out where it comes from, if it grew in shade or sun, who picked it, and how it got to our cup.
Within a decade, complete information on seafood is likely to be so common that we won’t have to pay more to know the story, and mystery fish will be a thing of the past. (See “Your Relationship with Fish Is About to Change” for more on this and other shifts remaking the seafood industry.)