Traceability of Fishery Products in different countries / by Francisco Blaha

This week I finished for FAO a study on the traceability systems of 10 countries... I believed I knew about traceability... but doing this study, made me realise that I was only scratching the surface...

 Cool image by the lovely people at fishwise.org 

Cool image by the lovely people at fishwise.org 

Traceability is not a trivial term, and the systematic analysis of the country reports shows that there is a lot of confusion and inconsistencies in the meaning, scope, legal status, implementation capacity and control of traceability systems. 

Traceability systems implementation was catalysed by market access requirements; which initially were the domain of the EU health certification and later on (after 2010) supplemented by the EU catch certification. However, most of the countries analysed have not legislated and standardised traceability as a requirement. Furthermore there seems to be little interaction in between the health CA and the fisheries CA in terms of their assessment of it.

It seems that efforts towards the implementation of traceability systems in the analysed countries and across countries have not been supported in an interdisciplinary and standardised way. Ensuring traceability through the seafood production chain can be only accomplished by careful planning, taking the time to gain consensus among the operators and authorities. In order to gain trust, the traceability system in place must meet the set standards. 

Traceability per se is difficult to achieve with little money, little human resources and lack of political will. It would be good if smaller steps are taken, steps that together will lead to implementing, at the end, effective traceability: clear definition of traceability in respective legislation, implementation of traceability requirements within companies and afterwards between companies, following in the beginning the one-step-up, one-step-down approach and afterwards moving to the integrated approach.

These initial steps should be defined by risk and start with the fisheries with higher IUU fishing and food safety risk profiles, but in a holistic way, so that other fisheries can be incorporated in the systems at a later point. 

We believe that FAO, as in other aspect of fisheries and seafood production, in its unique position can lead this standardization efforts by expanding on the work initiated by the “Draft Best Practice Guidelines on Traceability”  as requested by the thirteenth session of the Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (COFI:FT) in Bergen, Norway, 24–28 February 2014. 

I cannot yet disclose the report, but a good introductory read on traceability for seafood products (in the US) in the this "white paper" by my friend Mariah Boyle form FishWise. They lend me the nice image that I put in this blog and in the cover of the report.