Finger heroes, use your mobile phone to protect the ocean and stop slave labour in the fishing industry

How blockchain technology is strengthening fish traceability to stop illegal fishing

On a peaceful day in the Pacific Ocean, a fishing crew is working busily on their ship, which is hauling tons of fish from the ocean. On the deck, one worker is using his mobile phone to record the precise time and location those fish were caught. As he works, each of these fish are being tagged with a reusable radio frequency identification (RFID) tag on the deck.

These tags help identify the fish through every step of their industrial processing. They follow the fish as they are quickly packaged into loins, steaks, cubes and cans. Then, before these fish products are shipped to supermarkets for sale, each product is given a unique QR code. When consumers scan this QR code using their mobile phones, they can see where, when and how the fish was caught. They can even see an image of the workers who caught the fish.

WWF-Australia CEO, Dermot O’Gorman, once said to the ABC news : “ it’s a very exciting revolution that’s about to transform the industry, because the amount of transparency will reduce illegal, unregulated and unsustainable fishing.”

(SeaQuest Fiji chief executive Brett Haywood, with WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman and TraSeable Solutions CEO Ken Katafono, Image: WWF)

This small QR code is a significant development for the fish industry, designed to combat serious cases of illegal and unsustainable fishing.

In 2015, major Australia supermarkets including Coles, Woolworths and Aldi were implicated in a child labour and human trafficking scandal when the ABC reported that Thai Union, a fish factory which provided them seafood supplies was treating workers like slaves, beating and detaining them, and making them work 16 hour shifts and limited food.

Associated Press news agency revealed that a large number of workers were sold to fish factory, losing contact with their families. They were even given fake names and identity cards. Those workers lost their human right and their lives are treated as commodities.

This is one of the reasons that the World Wildlife Fund(WWF)in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji launched an ocean protection project called “bait to plate” in January 2018. The aim of this project is to help stop illegal, unreported, unsustainable and unregular fishing and human right abuses in the fish industry.

Behind the use of QR codes to identify fishing catches is a complicated and advanced technology. Blockchain technology is a continuously growing lists of information. It is widely used in business including provides supply-chain of business products. Blockchain consists of two parts, they are “block” and “chain”. Each block can divide into data, hash and hash of previous block three parts. “Data” represents the details of information, in this case, data refers to how many fishes were caught or who caught the fishes. Each block also has its own” hash” as identification. Once the information in the block is edited, a new hash will create. The hash of previous block is used to create a chain of block. The chain can link all blocks together and provide a completed supply chain.

(The structure of blockchain, image: Lin He

In this case, once the fish has been processed and packaged, the reusable RFID tags are switched a cheaper, digital QR code. This tag is attached to the product packaging, so that consumers can trace the supply chain by using their mobile phones. This enables them to choose whether they will buy traceable, ethical fish products.

(How blockchain works, supply : Lin He)

Multiple benefits

Using blockchain technology in the fish industry provides multiple benefits for both individuals and the environment. For individuals, blockchain technology provides a high-level of transparency for supply chain. It allows everyone on the net to see the entire supply chain. Due to the characteristics of blockchain, all the information provided by the QR code is verified. Customers can feel confident and make sure the seafood products they buy are sustainable and legally-caught.

Using block chain in the fish industry is helpful to solve the problem of illegal fishing. WWF pays attention to the human rights of workers. The first “block” of supply chain is collecting personal information of workers. The personal information including name, country and companies they worked in. It is useful to remove human rights abuses in commercial fish industries.

Overfishing and illegal fishing caused serious damage to the ecosystem. According to the Commonwealth Government’s annual report ,13.5% of fish stocks in Australia are overfished and more than 20 species of fishes faced critically endangered. Overfishing not only caused a lack of fish species, but also influenced climate change. Therefore, the use of blockchain is important since it can help ecosystem return to balance.

Another aim of using blockchain is to promote eating sustainable seafood which means fishes were caught and grown in environmentally friend ways. It allows people to enjoy fishes while protecting the ocean environment.

Meredith, who is the marketing manager of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said: “The ocean cover 70 percent of the planet and seafood is the main protein for over one billion people over the world, we need to make sure that we choose that sustainably.”

“In Australia, we are lucky because we have the option to choose something that is independently certified sustainable,” she said, “However, people in lot of developing countries do not have this opportunity.”

(Introduction of bait to plate project, supply: WWF)

The last part of this project is to collect transport information from fish industries to supermarkets. WWF is now looking for retail partners to complete the whole project. Once the transport information is updated, the customers can confidently know where the fish comes from.

Using blockchain technology is the start of a new era for the fishing business. Blockchain use will help stop illegal fishing and strengthen transparency of the fish supply chain. However, as the cost of technology will increase the cost of fish products, the prices of those fish products are higher than past. The question is whether consumers will be willing to pay. So, it is waiting for your support and that of everyone who wants to protect our ocean environment.

Lin He
About Lin He 3 Articles
A Master student from the University of Sydney majoring in media practice. Twitter: @Mmukee

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