By Yolanda Redrup
The World Wildlife Fund in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand have joined forces to stamp out illegal fishing and slave labour in the tuna fishing industry using blockchain technology.
In partnership with US-based software company ConsenSys and information and communications technology implementer TraSeable, WWF has been able to help tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji to track using blockchain the journey of the tuna from when it is caught, through processing and to the distributor.
WWF is now in discussions with tuna retailers to complete the "bait-to-plate" cycle with the hopes of creating a QR code for consumers on tuna tins that would tell them if the tuna had been sourced sustainably and ethically.
WWF Australia chief executive Dermot O'Gorman said the technology would likely be ready for commercial use in the tuna industry by the end of the year.
"The next phase is to work with the retail sector. We've worked on the front end and now we need to look at the rest of the supply chain, right up to the plate," he said.
"There's a number of technical and logistical challenges ... but we're in discussions with a few retailers ... and through the course of this year I think we'll get from bait to plate and be able to address the sustainability and human rights issues."
According to WWF, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous professions in the world with a high rate of injury and sometimes death due to unsafe working conditions.
A report from January 2014 found members of a South Korean fishing vessel called Oyang 70 were often beaten or punished for little or no reason and would be made to stand on deck during extreme weather conditions with no food or water. Crew members also reported incidents of sexual harassment and rape. These allegations came to light when the ship sank, killing six men.
In the past six years many other incidents of workplace deaths have also been revealed in the fishing sector, including the discovery of the body of a Chinese crewman on a Taiwanese fishing boat that had been stabbed in the neck and kept in a freezer.
Sea Quest volunteered to trial the technology as the Fijian fishery has made a name for itself in the market based on its commitment to sustainability and ethical practices. It exports predominantly to the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
"From the moment the fish comes aboard the vessel the blockchain technology captures their journey in a digital manner and allows every person through the supply chain to see the story of that fish," Sea Quest chief executive Brett "Blu" Haywood said.
Mr O'Gorman said consumers wanted to shop ethically and the development of the blockchain technology would enable them to do so in the near future.
"We see blockchain technology as being able to step up the transparency in the supply chain, which previously was difficult or quite expensive to do," he said.
"It's a very exciting revolution that's about to transform the industry and will deliver multiple sustainable development goals."
WWF is also investigating the use of blockchain for other seafood industries and for fundraising initiatives. It also held two hackathons in 2017 to develop solutions to environmental sustainability issues using new technologies.
Mr O'Gorman said it was supporting a start-up that had emerged from its second hackathon to develop a blockchain for charities to show consumers how their donations were being spent.
Published on The Financial Review on January 7, 2018