Discover how Blockchain for seafood traceability can positively impact supply chain efficiency and make the whole process streamlined to maximize quality and minimize losses


If you sit down at a restaurant to devour some wild-caught Sardine Pacific, you would assume that the fish was caught in Pacific, processed at a nearby facility, shipped to a local distributor and then purchased by the restaurant. Your assumption could well be wrong. Consider this: A large percentage of Alaskan salmon is sent to countries like China for processing, where labor costs are lower. And then it’s shipped back to the US. Such long round trips introduce so many mediators in the supply chain that it’s often difficult to know if you’re obtaining the kind of fish you are purchasing or ordering. Studies have found that more than 25,000 global samples extracted from the literature had been mislabeled and up to 10 million tonnes of fish are discarded or wasted every year, within supply chains.

The Global Food Crisis

The demand for safe, healthy and sustainable food products is increasing day by day. Not only consumers but governments too want more information about food products. Lack of effective traceability practices and transparency in the supply chain are leading to difficulty in finding a single source of truth. Traceability is not merely about finding the origin of the product. It involves logistical events and handling and transit information. Counterfeit in the supply chain is also a major concern and results in trust and transparency issues between supplier and consumer.

When it comes to fish & meat products, traceability is also required to address the product quality grade. In general, it is applicable to most agricultural produces as they are perishable in nature. However, for live seafood, it is a predominant requirement. This is due to the perceived low shelf life of sea organisms in a non-sea environment.

Challenges & Opportunities in Monitoring Seafood Supply Chain

For any supply chain activity, tracking and recording relevant information from source to consumption plays a vital role in asserting the quality of product. If you ever wished to track a fish from where it was caught, to the point where it is handed to the buyer, then you can imagine the myriad process and activities that have to be performed to bring it to your plate.  

For seafood, the journey starts at the fishing vessel where the sea organisms are netted live and then transferred to an onboard tank. The tank then becomes the shipment or consignment. It is transferred to the supplier's warehouse via inbound transportation originating at the port where the fishing vessels dock after their hunting voyage.  At the warehouse the tanks are kept at an environment which is conducive for the sea animals to thrive in their natural habitat. This involves maintaining proper temperature as well as the saline level of the water in the tank.  Subsequently, based on the orders received from restaurants, the suppliers commission outbound transport to deliver the tanks to the respective restaurants, thus closing the chain. 

A Typical Seafood Supply Chain

For keeping a track of this process, and for ensuring quality and traceability, a Blockchain-based system can be envisaged. Blockchain’s novelty in the supply chain traceability is under debate and has been explored for the last few years. But all the apprehensions aside, it is a viable options when the stakes are high and risks of subverting quality practices are huge. Applying Blockchain to the seafood supply chain has some added benefits because the the supply is unorganized in the form of fringe fishing companies which requires the enforcement of smart contract.

By capturing important logistical and supply chain events, a Blockchain-based smart contract system can be provisioned for managing the seafood supply chain. If you consider the supply of a tank filled with live lobsters, then the smart contract system would look somewhat like this.

A Smart Contract Mechanism under Blockchain for Seafood Traceability

The smart contract layer plays the most important role as it encapsulates the contractual terms between the participating businesses of supply chain. It also defined the rules to accept and/or reject the lobster tank consignment based on the quality, time or location parameters captured through events, and at each stage.  Ultimately, the smart contract checks and verifies the events and their parameters to deliver a verdict on the quality and acceptability criteria of the consignment as it moves from one party to the next. 

Since Blockchain cannot establish the veracity of the data captured from each of the points in the supply chain, additional checks and balances can be built into the process to prevent garbage data. However, a more efficient way would be to use IoT based sensor devices which can directly feed the data into the Blockchain system. Here are some ways to ensure an end to end traceability and quality in the seafood supply chain.

Autonomous Data Gathering Through IoT

Torry Score

The Torry score is a score that provides a measure of the freshness of the fish. It is based on a scoring system which mimics the human taste and odor perception of the freshness. The score can be obtained through a manual assessment or measured by using a Torry meter. However, the Torry meter needs to be handled by an expert inspector as it tends to give inaccurate readings under certain conditions. 

Torry meter

Image courtesy, Distell

Temperature & Humidity

These are the standard parameters for tracking cold storage compartments. If the seafood shipments are transported as a frozen product, then temperature and humidity play a huge role in ensuring their freshness and quality. Even otherwise, for keeping the live organisms hale, a controlled ambient temperature is a must.

pH Level

Since the seafood is kept alive until the end of the supply chain, it is also important to maintain the saline level of the tank water. This is to ensure that conditions are akin to their natural sea habitat. A pH sensor is used to measure the saline level.

Supply Chain Data Recording

Apart from using the sensing technologies, the efficiency of the supply chain and accountability can be established by setting certain protocols, such as

  1. Location Tracking: To ensure authenticity of the origin of supply 
  2. Image Capture: To aid in visual inspection during ownership transfer and proof of delivery 
  3. Documents: To be traced along with the consignment as part of statutory requirements such as BoL (Bill of Lading), insurance,  and quality certificates.

Nevertheless, the biggest problem to be addressed in such a system is the issue of mislabeling. Blockchain cannot help in this regard and it can happen even unintentionally due to an error in judgment by the field personnel.  A combination of technologies around labeling and scanning of tanks using RFID, barcodes or QR codes can be utilized to solve this problem.  

By optimizing the labeling, tracking and recording activities across the supply chain, it is possible to build a watertight system that provides complete quality satisfaction to the customer and rewards the participating supply chain companies for delivering the best seafood.

Get Started With Consulting Help

If you want to optimize your seafood or perishable food supply chain with Blockchain enabled digital transformation then you can get started in three easy steps

01 Define Business Entities

Define the participating business entities who are contributing to your supply chain. 

02 Define Events & Their Parameters

Define the events that you want to capture at each participant end. This can include semi-automated events such as general supervisory events, verification checklists as well as automated events based on sensor data. Also define the events required for recording statutory information such as documents and certificates.  

03 Build & Deploy Smart Contract

Build smart contract to evaluate the events at each participant end to decide product quality and service assurance within the stipulated SLA agreed by all parties.  Thereafter, deploy it as a Blockchain network.

Get in touch to undertake a quick Blockchain Readiness Audit for your supply chain.

About the author 

Shyam Purkayastha

Shyam is the Creator-in-Chief at RadioStudio. He is a technology buff and is passionate about bringing forth emerging technologies to showcase their true potential to the world. Shyam guides the team at RadioStudio, a bunch of technoholiks, to imagine, conceptualize and build ideas around emerging trends in information and communication technologies.

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