Recommendations for a Global Framework to Ensure the Legality and Traceability of Wild-Caught Fish Products / by Francisco Blaha

In 2013, WWF set up a Expert Panel on Legal and Traceable Wild Fish Products, a multi-disciplinary expert group (that by some obscure reason included me) conveyed to promote a global framework for ensuring the legality and traceability of all wild-caught fish products. 

The goal was to generate solutions to common challenges to establishing such a framework through complementary regulatory and private sector mechanisms.

In our view, a global framework for legal and traceable fish products would provide a powerful lever for encouraging sustainable fishing and combating IUU practices, thus generating substantial benefits to fishers, businesses, consumers, and governments.

We took note of increasing consumer demand for information about the origins of the seafood they eat, and of increasing movement among governments towards more robust regulations to strengthen traceability and to prevent trade in illegal seafood products.

These twin factors, along with other business concerns such as food safety and supply chain management, underlie a growing wave of activities that are expanding traceability within the seafood sector. Industry is moving in this direction voluntarily because traceability is increasingly recognized as good for business – reducing financial, regulatory, and reputational risk, increasing consumer confidence, allowing access to profitable markets, decreasing spoilage, and generally increasing operational efficiency

To help address these challenges, the Panel envisions a global framework (i.e., a combination of standardized commercial practices and adequately harmonised governmental regulations) that includes the following key elements:

  1. A shared definition of key data elements about the “who, what, where, when, and how” of fishing that should be associated with wild seafood products;
  2. Common nomenclatures and data standards so that this information can be easily shared and universally interpreted;
  3. A shared approach to recognizing authoritative sources of information and mechanisms that generate this information reliably;
  4. A shared approach to government mechanisms for proactively and authoritatively establishing the legality of fish products entering market chains, creating formal judgments on which market actors can rely;
  5. Auditing and verification mechanisms at each critical step in the supply chain that ensure the integrity and strength of the information and infrastructure that support production and trade of legal seafood globally;
  6. A vision for achieving fully electronic seafood traceability within five years;
  7. A shared approach to a global IT architecture that enables the interoperability of data and traceability platforms, and that provides data access and information sharing in accordance with a standardised system of appropriate access rights;
  8. Financial and technical support for those producers who will need help with this transition, particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and commercial fishers in developing countries; and
  9. A shared vision for the role of supportive and “adequately harmonised” government regulations, including for appropriate export and import controls.

In order to achieve this vision for fully traceable and demonstrably legal fish products, we issued the following recommendations:

  1. Minimum information standards for wild caught fish products should be adopted
  2. Authoritative data sources, including a global record of fishing vessels, should be established or identified as soon as possible
  3. A harmonised system of “landing authorizations” should be established to provide primary assurances of the legal origin of fish products (this is my "baby", as I'm developing that concept here in the Pacific)
  4. Multiple points of verification should be added throughout seafood supply chains
  5. A transition to fully electronic traceability systems should be accomplished for all commercial fish products within the next five years
  6. Support and capacity building must be provided to those producers who will need help with the transition to electronic traceability systems, particularly SMEs and commercial fishers in developing countries
  7. A global architecture for interoperable seafood traceability systems should be developed
  8. Where applicable, non-discriminatory border measures setting minimum standards for seafood traceability and proof of legal origin should combat trade in IUU products while facilitating legitimate commerce through a “risk based, tiered, and targeted” approach

These recommendations were delivered to the recently appointed US Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (I wrote about it here)

This document will be followed by a supplemental and more technically detailed report, expected to be released in early 2015, in the meantime you can read about the panel and download the report here

And while is great to recommend, doing is the challenge ahead... hope this give us all some leverage.