Tracking where our next seafood meal comes from...

This piece, authored by IFFO's Dr Brett Glencross, was published in the December 2023 edition of International Aquafeed magazine.

Last month I had the good fortune to attend the IFFO annual conference held in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa. Over the three days of the annual conference, we heard many presenters talk about supply and demand dynamics of the sector, with a range of nuanced presentations on critical issues affecting the global trade of protein meals and oils. One of the talks that captured my attention was one on traceability, and how we can actually define where something comes from and why that is important.

Dr Wesley Malcorps of University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture presented the talk and explained why things such as key data elements (KDEs) and critical tracking events (CTEs) are important pieces of information in the traceability story, and why they matter. KDEs are those “things” that we monitor or record, pieces of information about something. Whereas CTEs are more about “who” did something to the “thing”. CTEs assign responsibility for data capture. But a key aspect of traceability is good record keeping so you can maintain control over important data. For the most part, Dr Malcorps mentioned that “this data is isolated and generally hard to utilise” but was quick to point out that to increase traceability and supply chain efficiency, the use of a shared network along the supply chain offers much in the way forward.

A key reason for this traceability is to enable the verification of claims on things like what kind of fish a product is, where it came from and more and more of lately, what its sustainability credentials are. He pointed out that a key thing about sustainability is understanding the trade-offs between different types of impacts. For example, while we might be able to ensure a batch of fishmeal comes from a certified source, as well as understanding how it is produced, and this can help us make a realistic impact assessment, on things such as carbon, water, and land use footprints. He also importantly noted that sustainability is not just about the environment. But in fact, includes various other elements, such as social and economic indicators as well. Impact he noted was also dependent on location and context, so sustainability ends up being a story about trade-offs, about balancing the socio-economic and environmental aspects of something. While the story of balancing the socio-economic and environmental aspects remains important, it is crucial to consider that the seafood industry has worked hard on its sustainability credentials. But Dr Malcorps added “claiming seafood is now ‘sustainable’ risks limiting further improvements” and it should be considered that “sustainability is a journey, NOT and end point”. But, traceability, and why understand where something comes from, will always remain a big part of that “improvement journey”. Traceability cannot be done alone: everyone is already involved in providing data on the one hand, and collecting data on the other hand. It is now the case of managing the data with a common language.