A big day for me, both profesionally and personally / by Francisco Blaha

Not much of an emotional guy my self, or at least not in public. Boarding school, armed forces, commercial fishing aren’t very conducive to expressing (and exposing) your inner (softer) sides. But today is a truly special one since my professional and personal life comes together in the publication of an FAO "green book" that has my name on it. Hosch, G. & Blaha, F. 2017. Seafood traceability for fisheries compliance – Country level support for catch documentation schemes. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 619. Rome, Italy.

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I need to explain the personal part a bit… as you all painfully aware from reading this blogs, being dyslexic and writing are not good bedfellows.

Back in the days of my schooling if you didn’t write well, then you were “dumb”… even many of my marks were good enough, because I love reading, had a good memory and like science. Still… that “dumb” brand was (still?) a hard one to walk off from, and was in part why I turn to fishing and physical work (boat building, lifesaving, etc.)

And maybe because of that “fisherman thing”, where we push the limits and react to authority just because we are told that we can’t (or are not good enough) to do something. Is that only later on, I pursued my first university degree, then migrated to a part of the world I had no connections with, I did a 2nd MSc in a different language, became a consultant, and in some way... a writer via this blog.  I guess it is my nature to give things a go, just because I know I'm not good at them... 

In any case, it was quite early in my “career” that I discover those “green books” of FAO at the fisheries libraries of places I study and worked. There have always been excellent references on many areas of fisheries, and over the years got quite a collection that I treasure. On my first day as a Fisheries Officer in FAO Rome, I went straight to the fisheries library, and I could not believe that I was actually working at the place that contracted the authors and published those books!  It was a big thing for me!

So, to be contracted to write one of those FAO "green books" that I look up to, was quite humbling to say the least… and I have no shame to admit that my eyes were teary when I got today a mail saying that it has been published.

So enought of the personal stuff! 

I co-authored this book with my friend Gilles Hosch, someone whose name and CDS are getting hard to separate. Over a year ago while in a conference in India we were approached Dr Victoria Chomo from FAO with the idea of writing a complementary book to Gilles’ FAO Tuna CDS Study

From the start it was evident to us that while we all discuss the CDS details, we forget that the success of a CDS is at it roots, on a minimal set of support mechanisms that correlate MCS and traceability at each type of State (flag, coastal, port, processing and end market), along the fish product value chain. 

I’m a visual learner and always seen it as: “the CDS is the roof, that needs to on solid columns at each of the states along the value chain”. We are all working and talking about that roof, but neglecting the catalogue of what are the essential MCS and traceability elements to be taken care of each type of state for a CDS to work. And as we didn’t find a document that catalogued all those mechanisms we knew necessary... we wrote this book about them.

We both appealed to our complementary strengths and expriences in different parts of the world, our long-term (albeit frustrating sometimes) involvement with EU CCS and the various initiatives we been individually involved over the years.  Gilles is highly analytical and studied in "excruciating" detail the structures and limitation of all the CDS presently in operation, while I could complement that with practicality from experience at the operational and MCS level, as well as the understanding the traceability expectations associated to processing and the food-related regulatory framework of fisheries. 

He is an accomplished writer with quite a few FAO publications in his name, while I really struggle… so he not only had to do his parts but then also try to figure out what my ones mean! Hence it was totally logical that he would be the lead author, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for encouraging and insisting I'll be the co-author, knowing from prior work we did together, how frustrating it can be. Gilles, you are a brother, thank you!

I’m totally proud of the FAO "green book" we wrote, it catalogues and explain all the MCS and traceability related mechanisms you need in place at each type of state before attempting a CDS. It has boxes with examples of best practices (many of them quite dear to me from the Pacific) and if that wasn’t enough, it has in the cover one of my photographs taken during work with my colleges in Noro, my favourite fishing port in the world.

I’ll be posting over the next while part of the book, but in any case please download it, share it, use it… that is what it is intended for.

The Abstract says:

This document explores ways in which individual countries in seafood supply chains can, in their capacities as coastal, flag, port, processing or end-market states, contribute to maximizing the effectiveness of catch documentation schemes.

The focus is on the traceability of seafood consignments, but the authors also explore other important compliance mechanisms that lie beyond traceability and that support the effective implementation of catch documentation schemes at the country level.

The document explains which traceability mechanisms are built into catch documentation schemes, and which additional support mechanisms must be provided by individual countries along seafood supply chains.

The study finds that traditional fisheries monitoring, inspection and sanctioning mechanisms are of primary importance with regard to flag, coastal and end-market states, whereas effective country-level traceability mechanisms are of particular importance in port and processing states.

The text is segmented into three parts:

  • The first part – Chapters 1 to 3 – introduces the study and the methodology used, and describes the functioning of catch documentation schemes.
  • The second part – Chapter 4 – provides findings with regard to country-level support mechanisms for catch documentation schemes for each state type participating in seafood supply chains.
  • The third part – Chapter 5 – provides conclusions, recommendations and policy guidance on the basis of the findings in the second part.