‘Sustainability’ has become one of the widest used words in seafood circles over the course of the past few decades. While it has been applied in different contexts and circumstances to imply any number of things, it’s been most commonly given as an indication that products are sourced from well-managed, healthy stocks or are species that were caught or farmed using methods that have a minimal impact on the marine environment.
In more recent times, and alongside the growth of certification schemes and third-party accreditation, the sustainability agenda has extended further still to examine and evidence the social and ethical impacts of seafood production and fish welfare.
But that’s far from the end of the evolution. Spurred on by a strong and ongoing surge in consumer consciousness – with more people than ever before seeking out ways to make positive food purchasing decisions – seafood supply chains have a lot more questions to answer, and what’s increasingly at the forefront of consumers’ minds are the related issues of safety, transparency and trust.
The power of provenance
There’s an underlying desire for people to understand exactly what a product is, where it came from and how it was produced, that it’s safe, and crucially, for this information to be fully verifiable. In short, they want to be able to have full trust in the foods that they are buying. This puts the onus on supply chains to have robust systems in place that are capable of following a fish throughout its entire journey to the plate, regardless of whether it has come from a wild-capture fishery or if it began life in a hatchery.
The reason this is so important is that issues related to illegal fishing, irresponsible farming practices, fraud and mislabelling have become much more publicly prominent in recent years. The efforts of NGOs and governments to combat these challenges have fuelled this interest, as has some infrequent but nevertheless damning media coverage. Consequently, not having sufficient supply chain transparency exposes seafood businesses and traders to significant risk.
This is where traceability tools that help connect and verify supply chains come into their own – providing trust for consumers and giving supply chains trust in their own product. And in addition to documenting and linking the raw material production, processing, and distribution chain of seafoods and ingredients, such systems enable any contamination or product irregularity to be quickly acted upon. This enables the prompt removal of any unwanted products from the marketplace, while also safeguarding the credibility of the brand and the broader seafood category.
There’s everything to lose
The value of being able to substantiate such things shouldn’t be underestimated. As a food category, seafood is the most globally traded commodity. It also has a strong wind in its sails. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO), the global per capita consumption has more than doubled over the past 40 years – outpacing both the world population increase and the growth in consumption of all other animal protein foods and all terrestrially-produced meat.
This steady rise is being driven by multiple factors. As well as increased production, there have been technical developments in terms of processing and logistics, reduced raw material wastage and better utilisation, and also an increased demand for seafood, which is in turn linked to greater consumer awareness of the health benefits of seafood. It is also recognised that urbanisation continues to shape consumption trends in many markets, with urban inhabitants typically having more disposable income to spend on animal proteins like fish.
Against such a backdrop of engaged demographics, not being able to connect all the dots is a risk that seafood supply chains simply cannot afford to take.