Pole and line fishermen in Ambon, Maluku equipped with cellular and smart phones illustrate an opportunity to digitise information right where fish is caught.
Pole-and-line fishermen in Ambon, Maluku equipped with cellular and smartphones illustrate an opportunity to digitise information right where fish is caught

With 50% of the fish for human consumption coming from small-scale fisheries, the livelihoods of these fishermen are crucial to the fate of their communities and to a sustainable fishing industry, states the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

London-based technology company Provenance is combining the immutability and cryptographic granularity of blockchain, with sea to consumer supply chains in order to track high value fish, improving transparency and sustainability.

The process has been shown to be successful in a pilot project, supported by Humanity United (part of the far-reaching philanthropy of the Omidyar Group) and run in Indonesia by Provenance, the results of which are released in a report today.

Hundreds of thousands of men are forced to work as slaves in the Southeast Asian fishing industry, as a hidden part of the global supply chains of major consumer brands.

However, consumers are demanding greater transparency – a recent survey showed sustainability is rated more highly than price and brand, and more than half (54%) of consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for a certified sustainable seafood product. More than two-thirds of those consumers said there is a need for brands and supermarkets to independently verify their claims about sustainability.

This pilot shows how unique tools built by Provenance can be used to prove claims made about products along a supply chain, by tracking chain-of-custody, allowing consumers to access verified information about the origins of fish they are purchasing in store or at a restaurant.

Provenance's tested application is designed to work through a simple smartphone interface. It links identity, location, material attributes, certifications and audit information of an object, in this case a tuna fish, with a specific item or batch ID on the blockchain, that can be digitally transferred on sale, for example, from fisherman to supplier and beyond.

Today, only paper records and tags accompany the sale and purchase of items such as skipjack tuna. Working with declining pole-and-line and handline fisheries in Indonesia – the largest tuna producing country – Provenance conducted a series of three experiments that tested state of the art technology in the field.

About the pilot

The pilot project ran from January to June 2016 in Indonesia, SE Asia.

Phase 1: The first mile Local fishermen collect catch data and send simple SMS messages to register their catch, issuing a new "asset" on the blockchain. These are transferred from fisherman to supplier along with the catch. The identity of the fishermen are saved forever in the list of previous owners on the blockchain.

Phase 2: Along the chain The record is accessible to anyone with the unique identifier – attached to the item as a QR Code, RFID tag or using any other hardware technology. If the fish changes, for example, it is processed or tinned, that too will be registered on the blockchain, and encoded in a label that will be passed with the transformed product down the chain.

Phase 3: The consumer The information from origin and the supply chain can be reached and trusted by shoppers towards the end of the chain. This technology allows retailers and brands to replace the clutter of traditional printed communication and allows shoppers to view authenticated stories about each product, seeing the producers and suppliers involved in farming or processing.

The company has recently started working with the Co-op on bringing trusted traceability to Co-op customers in-store in line with its commitment to radical transparency.

Jessi Baker, founder of Provenance, said: "This pilot is an important step in proving that complex, global supply chains can be made transparent by utilising blockchain technology. The current system has flaws, and we are desperately in need of a solution to help consumers make more conscious decisions when purchasing goods."

For more information about the technology, Provenance has published a white paper, Blockchain: the solution for transparency in product supply chains.