Last Saturday I shared the stage on a discussion panel on New areas affecting trade – Value Chain Transparency during the FAO / FFA / SPC / NZMFAT organised "Pacific Regional Workshop for SIDS" in Auckland. It was an interesting event where pretty much everyone was my boss since I work for all of those four organizations!
A lot of the focus was on the new technologies and the surge of partial value chain (as not the ones that cover a whole fishery) initiatives particularly those based on blockchain architecture.
I have been a bit low in positivity later, which happen sometimes… when I feel that other than making a living for me and my family, there is not much that I (and the wonderful people I work with) are achieving.
My aims around common good, inequality, re-empowering the fishery resource owners, my sense of social justice, my belief in long-lasting fisheries that can help people to achieve a better life (as in my case) and so on… collapse when I see images like the one in the picture above. This is a young man waiting for a bus in Auckland a few days ago. Maybe what I believe is not really possible anymore and I live in a hippie past…
I started my presentation with the phrase in the title because I really believe it contains a lot of wisdom:
I believe the traceability systems we design rely too much on ideal (and rich) people... yet the willingness of any player in the seafood value chain to be part of any system that adds transparency is based on the perceived economic benefits arising from its use and/or the fear of regulatory consequences of its "not use". (Assuming the government agencies responsible have the mandate, willingness and capacity to enforce the rules, which does not seem to be the case in many DWFN)
The recognition (in our book) that Blockchain technology may eliminate the need for central registries and is therefore likely to reduce the complexity and cost of transnational traceability systems in a CDS is based on the obligatory nature of a CDS along the entirety of a value chain, from all the vessels, from all fags in a fishery, via all coastal, port, processing and market states those initial capture go to... OK, yes is ambitious, but I don't see another way, other than to have that regulatory imposition as the final objective of any CDS.
Independently of the programming architecture of the systems involved, the compliance functions enforced through a CDS central registry need to remain in place to identify fraudulent transactions in blockchain systems and environments. The difference between a central registry and a blockchain approach to CDS data is a matter of form, not function.
Any flow takes the path of less resistance, fisheries are no different... so why we expect the operators there to act differently than any other cutting corner business? An accountant that finds ways to save taxes to the wealthiest clients, is heralded as a champion, yet a fisherman that does in principle the same and plays with the rules with ut breaking them, is despicable... from an ethical perspective, both are equally as bad.
Hence, until there is a global commitment to value chain transparency tools like CDS (based on any technologies) we are just tinkering along the sides.
By providing transparency to the value chain of responsible operators (who in reality did not need them in the first place - otherwise they would not have volunteered to be part of the pilot project), we are showing it is possible, but we are not solving the issue… the ones outside the systems being implemented are the problem.
For me, the big issue is that we have not formalised the incentives system by which the ethical and legal operators are rewarded and the non-ethical are punished by regulators and consumers*.
And that is not going to be changed by any App or traceability tool (Independent of the type of programming tool its used) implemented voluntarily by some operators or institutionalised only by some countries, while the competitor operators or countries (or the DWFN fishing on them) do not take part.
* Finally, for me personally, the whole argument that the ethical consumer will reward the good practices and transparency with their choice or a price plus, maybe a truth for part of the 29% of the world population the earns more than 10 USD a day.
Unfortunately, my life experience has shown me that "ethics" is a very shifty ground... But then, I have grown up and spent a significant part of my life (all the way up o migrating to a wealthy country) being part of the 71% that lived below that threshold… and I really could not afford to care.