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Want to Save the Fish? Turn Supply Chains Into Stories

The seafood supply chain may not be the most stimulating subject to discuss, but it is one of the most important issues to address if we want to end overfishing. The black box of the global seafood supply chain hides up to 24 million tons of illegally harvested fish, including approximately 25% of US wild-caught...

One step in the seafood supply chain: distribution

The seafood supply chain may not be the most stimulating subject to discuss, but it is one of the most important issues to address if we want to end overfishing. The black box of the global seafood supply chain hides up to 24 million tons of illegally harvested fish, including approximately 25% of US wild-caught seafood imports. Such IUU fishing not only depletes fish stocks, but it is also associated with other illicit activities, such as human trafficking. The lack of transparency in the supply chain relegates most fish to being “mystery” fish, which fuels rampant mislabeling and seafood fraud, posing significant health risks to consumers and creating a false sense of abundance that masks the real scarcity that exists below the surface. But there is a solution: we call it Storied Fish—seafood that comes with detailed information about its journey from water to plate.  And the good news is that capturing that information and attaching it to fish can bring major business wins, along with conservation gains.

Photo: mystery fish on a plate
Lack of transparency in supply chains means all fish is “mystery” fish, posing health risks and masking scarcity

Here’s how it works: Better tracking and traceability technology offer business advantages, including better inventory management, staffing efficiencies, and improved quality of product, all of which can help the bottom line.  In addition, once these systems are in place, it slams the door on illegal fish and allows for higher quality, responsibly caught product to be distinguished in the marketplace. So the first step toward Storied Fish is getting industry players to incorporate traceability and verifiable data systems into their supply chains. The second step is to help support the companies making those changes. And that’s where consumers and good storytelling come in. Photo: mobile smart phone for tracing fishThe case for better traceability technology and for verifiable data in seafood supply chains is a business case with strong environmental benefits. But increased demand for Storied Fish, and a willingness to pay for it, would help catalyze the shift in the supply chain, providing support to the fishers and seafood companies that are bringing transparent, traceable, trustworthy fish to market. Trouble is, the majority of seafood consumers don’t know that they are eating “mystery” fish. They don’t think to ask what fish is in their fish sticks. In a recent snapshot survey of industry players at the Seafood Expo North America in Boston, we found that the vast majority of interviewees wished consumers knew more about the quality of their seafood and the effort it takes to deliver it.  They wished consumers would care more about the story behind their seafood. So, how do we get consumers to demand that Every Fish Has A Tale? Turn the trail of the supply chain into a great story.  This can be done by building greater transparency between industry and consumers, providing opportunities for joint celebration of food and story, and by creating easy pathways for consumers to engage in positive and satisfying ways.

Photo: ThisFish app on mobile
Consumers enjoy being able to say “thanks” to their fisher/fish farmer

The folks at ThisFish have created a great example of that by providing consumers with alphanumeric codes that come with every fish shipment and upload information about the journey of their fish from ocean to plate.  When made aware that a story exists, consumers want to know it, right down to the detailed information about the harvester.  One of the most popular features of the site is the ability to send thanks back to the fisher, something that lends satisfaction and good feelings to both parties. Another example of a great opportunity to build awareness and positive engagement between the seafood industry and consumers is offered by Sustainable Seafood Week, NYC. This initiative “is a culinary-fueled celebration showcasing the efforts of local fishermen and seafood farmers, chefs, organizations and communities to promote responsible sourcing of seafood.”  The event runs from May 6-11th and provides the chance for chefs, fishers, and diners to connect over food through story and positive, delicious action.

Photo: Sustainable Seafood Week NYC logo
SSW NYC May 6-11th, 2014

In its second year, Sustainable Seafood Week, NYC has grown to encompass over twenty restaurant partners offering super clubs, select tasting menus, cooking classes, and more. The week culminates in an Industry Day where leading experts and industry representatives join panels for open, dynamic discussions on how to meet the growing demand for seafood responsibly. This year, the panels tackle subjects including aquaculture, local sourcing, and traceability technology. Find out more. Experiential learning coupled with direct action provides a level of gratification that can build a movement, even if that movement is around something a mundane as supply-chain logistics.  By turning supply chains into stories, and providing ways to put the people who touch our seafood in front of those of us who eat it, we can create a future where Every Fish Has a Tale, and the ocean has a whole lot more fish. Future of Fish is a non-profit that works with entrepreneurs and businesses whose ideas allow oceans, seacoast communities, and marine economies to thrive. If you’re interested in being part of our work, email: 

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Meet the Author

Cheryl Dahle
A journalist and entrepreneur who has worked at the intersection of business and social transformation for more than a decade, Cheryl conceived and co-led the effort to found Future of Fish. Prior to her work with fisheries, Cheryl was a director at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, where she distilled knowledge from the organization’s network of 2,500 fellows to provide strategic insight to foundations and corporations. As a consultant, she has served leading organizations in the space of hybrid business/social solutions, including Humanity United, Nike, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. Cheryl spent 15 years reporting on social entrepreneurship and business for publications including Fast Company, The New York Times and CIO magazine. Cheryl founded and led Fast Company magazine’s Social Capitalist awards, a competition to identify and recognize top social entrepreneurs. Before her work with nonprofit organizations, she was part of an incubation and startup team for which she helped secure $12 million in venture funding to launch an online environmental magazine.