Fishy business is just the start of a potential deluge of distributed digital records management.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are arguably where the news hype is at, but as sage commentators will tell you, digital money isn’t the truly big deal with blockchain.
Instead, the supposedly transformative power of a peer-to-peer database lies in its ability to solve trust issues on a far wider scale – including, it seems, out at sea.
That much has emerged with an announcement from conservation group WWF and partners, which say they are introducing blockchain technology to the Pacific Islands’ tuna industry. The technology will be used in a further effort to combat illegal fishing. Oh, and potentially, human rights abuses too.
Before getting into that, a recap of blockchain. It is essentially a new way to do a database, decentralising record-keeping in an open ledger which records transactions transparently and, so they say, easily.
Why is it transformative? Check out this explanation from asset manager BNY Mellon; while it focuses on the banking and financial services aspects of blockchain’s potential, the benefits can extend to many other industries.
Including commercial fisheries. WWF said the technology is to track fish from vessel to the supermarket, or more catchily, from ‘bait to plate’. The conservator said in a statement that the Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project uses it in the fresh and frozen tuna sectors of the Western and Central Pacific region to strengthen supply chain management.
The partners in the initiative include WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Australia, and WWF-Fiji, along with tech vendor ConsenSys and reseller TraSeable, and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji; the project is to be delivered in Fiji.
In the statement, WWF-New Zealand CEO Livia Esterhazy said the project has the potential to improve lives and protect the environment through ‘smart, sustainable fisheries’. “For years, there have been disturbing reports that consumers may have unknowingly bought tuna from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and, even worse, from operators who use slave labour,” she said.
READ: What’s blockchain?
How blockchain will help change that is through a scan of tuna packaging using a smartphone app at (or just before) the point of sale. This will alert the concerned consumer to the provenance of the product: where and when the fish was caught, by which vessel and fishing method.
Conscientious consumers will then know that they’re buying legally-caught, sustainable tuna. “Blockchain technology is a digital, tamper-proof record of information that is accessible to everyone,” Esterhazy added.
WWF explained that the buying and selling of Pacific tuna is currently either tracked by paper records, or not at all. With the Traceability Project, fishermen can register their catch on the blockchain through radio-frequency identification (RFID) e-tagging and scanning fish.
Viant technology is behind the project; taking an inductive leap, one imagines that blockchain is perhaps the better technology for this application than a standard database owing to the decentralisation of trust and the requirement for consensus for records to be entered and validated on the blockchain.
WWF said the traceability circle isn’t quite complete yet, but ‘steps are underway to find a retailer to partner in the project and use blockchain to complete the tuna’s traceability story’.
Sea Quest Fiji CEO Brett Haywood said sustainable fishing ensures the longevity of the industry. “This blockchain project with the three WWF offices certainly gives the industry the best opportunity going forward.”
There’s another important link in the traceability story, of course, and that’s the consumer. The initiative is premised on the assumption that consumers will seek out products with a clear provenance – but as black markets everywhere have proved since time immemorial, on that count there’s no guarantee.