Consumers who would never buy something generically labeled meat or cheese are often stuck at almost that level of information when it comes to seafood. The opaque origins and processing of many seafood products can hide a host of problems, including species fraud, illegal fishing, human rights abuses in the labor force, and pollution—as well as the resource depletion that accompanies these issues. A 2014 report in Marine Policy estimates that over 20 percent of wild-captured seafood imported into the U.S. comes from illegal fisheries.
But this is quickly changing, as an increasing number of innovators in the seafood industry create new ways of making the system more transparent and seafood products and processes more traceable.
Imagine a tuna fleet out on the Pacific, catching fish that will change hands five to seven times before landing on a 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? Or if marketing and packaging captured the nutritional content and journey of sustainably caught or farmed fish?
Fish market selling a variety of whitefish.
Solutions like these are already happening at a small scale in specific enterprises, and traceability and transparency will soon be the price of admission to the seafood counter for all. Fish is following the path of coffee. Remember when it was just coffee? Now we want to know where it comes from, if it grew in shade or sun, who picked it, and how it got to our cup. Ten years from now, I expect seafood to be similarly traceable. Complete information will be so common that there won’t be a price premium for it, and mystery fish will be unheard of in the U.S. Tightening government regulations, expanding consumer curiosity, and technological innovation are all converging to make this happen. (See “Your Relationship with Fish Is About to Change” for more on this and other shifts remaking the seafood industry.)
The global trend toward traceability mirrors the evolution of food-safety laws over the last century, according to a recent report on traceability by FishWise. Additionally, regulatory actions such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Port State Measures Agreement—aimed at deterring illegal and unregulated fishing and ratified by 40 countries—are creating a demand for traceability pioneers and technologies.
The market for products and services in this sector is expected to grow to $14.1 billion over the next two years, according to Allied Market Research, and the Fish 2.0 Market Report on traceability lays out a variety of needs and opportunities in this sector. According to a report by consulting firm CA Environmental Associates, 92 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. now comes from retailers with a commitment to responsible sourcing—and those retailers need information.