Earth First

Where is Your Fish From?

Traceability is a recurring term when it comes to fish safety and fishery sustainability. But what does that even mean?

Traceability is the overarching term, which describes the ability to trace the history of a (food) product through its production and full life cycle. This system of traceability is basically a record of where the product has been, who was in contact with it and the stages of processing. It records the whole supply chain. One example for an evolving traceability system is the fish market.

What information is tracked

Currently there are multiple guidelines and principles for traceability when it comes to fish. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has a list of points based on extensive case studies, by which fisheries should comply to. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), together with industry partners, offers propositions for the traceability of wild-caught fish.

The WWF set up six principles that should be the foundation for a framework of traceability. They are a little theoretical, but it can be a guideline for many companies and fisheries. These six principles are: 1

  1. The Essential Information. All information regarding a caught fish (measurements and all ‘W- questions’ like who? what? when? how? etc.) to ensure it’s a legal catch.
  2. Full Chain Traceability. To track the whole chain from sea to table in detail.
  3. Effective Tracking of Product Transformation. Where and how the product was transformed (if transformed) to verify the legality and sustainability.
  4. Digital Information and Standardized Data Formats. Electronic data, proper labelling and tracking through standardised data formats.
  5. Verification. Information must be provided so government or external parties can verify and assess the fish.
  6. Transparency and Public Access to Information. The system needs to be transparent so everyone, from grandma to Queen Elisabeth, can make conscious decisions based on the supply chain information.

Is Fish Traceability really that simple?

In theory tracking a fish sounds easy, but in practice it gets a little more complicated. It involves a lot of stickers and keeping track of these stickers with the right fish and verification.

When the fish is pulled out of the ocean, it is labelled with a sticker that describes its species and weight, who pulled it out, date, grade and price. This coded sticker will stay with the fish during the transformation process. Once the fish (whole or in pieces) is ready to be vacuum packed, it gets a new sticker.2 Some fish auctions even have tracking barcodes for the boxes that hold fish.

These stickers have number or barcodes that can be read to gain traceability information about the fish. This information is also logged into an electronical system, so it can be accessed easily. To be clear, these stickers are not called stickers but IDs. Fresh fish are given a Raw Material Identification (RM-ID), and when the fish is transformed into a product and shipped to restaurants or markets, it will be labelled with a Finished Good Identification (FG-ID).2

During the whole process the fishermen keep a log book with all the above-mentioned information. This can also be accessed by external parties such as responsible government organisations. This allows them to control if the fish were caught legally but also third-party verification. 2

One issue with this traceability system is that it only tracks the fish that are brought back to consumers. So, fish that are caught on the boat (but not used) will be thrown out into the sea without any tracking. Therefore, it is incredibly difficult to measure just how much fish is actually caught each year.2

Seafood Fraud

A problem across the globe is seafood fraud, meaning what you want to buy is not what you thought you’d get. Fish is often purposely mislabelled, as one specific species was not available or nowhere to be found. So, to meet consumer demands, a different fish is used and passed as the demanded species. It is often done to increase profit.3

To combat this fraud, third-party verification is important. They certify that the fish that is taken from the ocean is the same that ends up on our table. The transparent system also allows us to hold the responsible people accountable if something goes wrong because every step of the process is recorded, and it also assures food safety.3

So just keep out an eye for those verification agencies to know what the fish you really purchased.  

Do you think the traceability of fish is sufficient enough? Let us know in the comments below!

Related articles

Most viewed

Earth First

Do Plant-based Diets Provide Enough Protein?

Klaus Hadwiger,Angelika Schulz

We've all heard the argument that plant-based diets don't provide us with enough protein - but is it…

Earth First

Beauty Products Made From Food Waste

David Urry,Anna Brightman

A lot of food waste, like coffee grounds, fruit stones and eggshells, is actually inedible. Is there…

Earth First

Amino Acids | The Building Blocks of Protein

Lynn Liu

We tend to think that protein is a simple macronutrient that your body needs. However, if you ever…

Earth First

Probiotics: The Science Behind Good Bacteria

Carolina Moyano

Probiotics are often found in fermented foods, but not all fermented foods contain probiotics.…

Earth First

Rice | The Italian Way

Silvia Lazzaris

I don’t love risotto. This has always been, for my Italian family, one of my most intriguing…

Earth First

Health Claims | FAQs

Dr Stacey Lockyer

What are health claims and how are they regulated in Europe? Read on to find answers to your FAQs.

Earth First

What Will We See in Farms of the Future?

Claudia Lee

With agriculture accounting for almost one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of…

Earth First

Spirulina | How It’s Grown

Katharina Kropshofer

The algae spirulina was already harvested by indigenous people in Mexico and Chad. Today, scientists…

Earth First

How Does Colour Affect The Way We Eat?

Dr Caroline Wood

It’s often said that ‘we eat with our eyes’ and science shows this is true –…

Earth First

How Forgotten Crops Help Combat Climate Change

Luke Cridland

Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, with 18.4% of global greenhouse…

Earth First

Avocado Life Cycle & Food Waste

Silvia Lazzaris

Besides rodent and insect bites, fungi and plant diseases, human mishandling is one of the main…

Human Stories

When Less is More: A Portrait of No-till Farming

Dr Caroline Wood

The Green Revolution in agriculture was powered by mechanisation, but our soils are now worn out…

Keep updated with the latest news about your food with our newsletter

Follow Us