For many, eating seafood is an essential part of their diet. But when you go to a seafood market, or when you order a seafood meal at a restaurant, how do you really know where that fish came from? How do you know what fish you are really eating? The issue of mis-labeled fish is a massive one, and it has serious implications on consumption as well as species sustainability.
Text and Photography by Michael Salvarezza and Christopher Weaver (Eco-Photo Explorers)
One man’s vision, being brought to life through a non-profit organization, is utilizing an innovative approach to attack this problem. It is one SCUBA divers and any person committed to the welfare of our oceans should be aware of.
Eric Enno Tamm is the team leader for traceability initiatives at Ecotrust Canada, a Vancouver-based charitable nonprofit that launched the seafood traceability system ThisFish in 2010.
Prior to working on ThisFish, Eric was head of communications for Ecotrust Canada and executive director of the Coastal Community Network, an advocacy group in British Columbia. Eric grew up in the commercial fishing industry on Vancouver Island and has worked in the harvesting and processing sectors, and has authored several reports on sustainable fisheries and ITQ systems.
ThisFish Inc. is a leader in seafood traceability and production software that improves business efficiency and increases trust and accuracy in supply chain data. Their mission is to improve the social, environmental and financial sustainability of the seafood industry.
We sat down with Eric Enno Tamm to learn more.
Can you tell us a little bit about ThisFish and what you are trying to do?
ThisFish Inc. is a mission-based software company trying to digitize global seafood supply chains in order to make the industry more transparent and trusted. We’ve identified seafood factories as the most critical hub in supply chains and have developed software for seafood factories to digitize their production, traceability and quality control data. We are trying to bring this ancient industry into the digital age.
What are some of the problems associated with the seafood industry today that better traceability through digital tools will address?
Studies show that a third of seafood is mislabeled and a quarter of U.S. seafood imports are from “pirate” fishing, resulting in low trust in seafood supply chains and new stricter traceability regulations. Yet most seafood processors still manage their traceability data on paper, causing numerous problems including human errors, no real-time analytics, slow reporting, inefficient transcription, etc. Businesses are drowning in painful paperwork. We are building software that solves both a business problem and a larger problem related to a lack of data and transparency in supply chains.
Your solution is a software solution. Is there an economic advantage to the seafood industry in adopting this software?
Our software digitizes and automates data collection in seafood factories, saving labor costs and improving data quality. Another big advantage is getting real-time data which improves their process control. Through dashboards, managers can watch their factory digitally in real-time which they’ve never been able to do before.
Seafood is sourced from everywhere on the planet. Are your efforts international in nature? That must involve a lot of conversations with lots of people!
Seafood is the most globally traded protein on earth. No other protein is as complex and diverse as seafood which also reflects the same complexity and diversity that is in our ocean ecosystems. We are based in Vancouver, Canada, but have customers in Europe, Latin America, North America and Southeast Asia. We’ve implemented our technology from the Spice Islands in Indonesia to Adak in the Aleutian Islands.
Do you get pushback from the industry? In other words, if there is fraud and other illegal activity involved, don’t they want you to stay out of their business?
Sadly, yes. The seafood industry is largely a paper-based industry. There are some forward-thinking visionary people who want to advance the industry through sustainability, traceability and new technology. However, there are also some that want to continue to hide bad business practices. Some are hiding illegal activity as well. In the Information Age, I think this latter group is living on borrowed time. Technology is helping to shine a light on some dark corners in the global seafood industry.
What inspired you to take on this effort?
I was born and raised in a commercial fishing family that goes back generations on Vancouver Island, Canada . I spent my childhood on a fish boat and so I’ve seen the best and the worst of the industry. The fishing industry is truly the last vestige of our prehistoric hunter-gather society. It is part of our human heritage and if we get it right there is no reason why we can’t still be fishing 100,000 years from now.
Is there anything SCUBA Divers can do to help this cause?
I think it is very easy to demonize fish harvesters, especially if you see overfishing on reefs or bottom habitat destruction. In many cases, fish harvesters and their communities find themselves in circumstances where bad behavior is rewarded and good behavior is not. We are all part of this system, which often manifests itself in bad fishing practices. But the economic drivers behind this behavior often start with retailers and consumers. We all bear some responsibility, but the blame is sometimes placed on those who are the most vulnerable and poor in our economic system — the primary producers risking life and limb fishing on the sea.
Any “war story” that you’d like to share?
At age 22, I skippered my father’s salmon fishing vessel for a summer and almost sank it in a storm 30 miles off shore. Needless to say, I think I found a better (and safer) vocation building software for the fishing industry.