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Pomada shrimp fishing vessel in Ecuador Daylin Munoz-Nunez

Inter•operability: we can’t save our oceans without it

  • Date: 06 December 2018
  • Author: David Schorr, Senior Manager, Transparent Seas, WWF

Whether it’s in your personal life or your business, without connections you won’t find success. For the seafood industry—and for all the people around the planet who eat fish or fish for a living—it’s the same story. If seafood is to be sustainable and profitable, connectivity is key.

This is important because the decline of our ocean ecosystems is now mainstream knowledge confirmed by new data and science practically every week. The latest Living Planet Report shows just how much fishing has had an impact on our oceans and the global food supply chain. Since 1950, vessels have hauled in nearly 6 billion tons of fish and invertebrates, like lobsters and mussels. That’s the equivalent weight of 9.4 million yellow school buses hauled out of the ocean every year. And if that is hard to imagine, just picture these buses lining up bumper to bumper—it would wrap around Earth three times, and then some.

While some fishing is sustainable, much is not – and some is outright illegal. Telling seafood products apart requires tracking what’s caught (or farmed), where, when, how and by whom. But for seafood, which has one of the most complex global supply chains of any food product, traceability is a significant challenge. Following fish from vessel to dinner plate cannot be done without dozens of technologies being able to smoothly interoperate. 

How interoperability works

Interoperability is a big word for a relatively simple idea—technology is most useful when different systems can communicate with one another seamlessly.

Consider the smartphone that you rely on for every day life. If you travel across state lines—or even overseas – as long as you cover the cost, your phone will work. That doesn’t just happen. The mobile industry prioritized interoperability to make that possible.

The same is true for ATM cards. Interoperability makes accessing a massive network of banks possible, which allows you to withdraw money anywhere in the world using only a sliver of plastic, getting the cash you need instantly and securely.

Where business is leading

Technology can create transparency throughout the seafood supply chain, but only if systems can communicate and share information. The key is for the seafood industry to come together around a culture of transparency and data sharing, and to establish digital data sharing standards and practices.

Fortunately, the seafood industry is actively engaged to make that possible, and business leaders are on the cusp of a breakthrough that will change the way the global seafood supply chain works.

With the help of WWF and the Global Food Traceability Center, more than fifty leading companies have come together through the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) to draft a set of voluntary industry guidelines and create the technical standards needed to allow key information to flow easily across the sector. The GDST includes small, medium, and large businesses from North America, Europe and Asia, and represents the whole supply chain from fishers to processors to retailers. They are working not only to establish basic interoperability standards, but also to produce industry-wide best practices for the quality of information and verification practices.

This work is expected to wrap up in just over a year, but there is still time for additional companies and stakeholders to be a part of this process. Go to the GDST website to learn more or get involved.

Although it sounds wonky, the creation of a framework to enable interoperability of seafood supply chain management and information systems will be a critical moment on the timeline of technology in ocean conservation. Perhaps a Living Planet Report published a generation from now will tell the story of how a set of companies dedicated to interoperable information sharing helped open the door to greater knowledge about where our seafood comes from and how we can manage our ocean resources for long-term, sustainable health.

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