• More than half of the world’s tuna comes from the Pacific Ocean, but tuna fisheries are suffering from depleted stocks and illegal fishing.
  • Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to marine biodiversity, the sustainability and balance of marine ecosystems, and to fish populations worldwide.
  • By tracking the fish from the moment it’s caught, blockchain would make it impossible for any illegal or unreported tuna to enter the market.

Imagine being able to scan a pack of fish with your smartphone and know instantly the journey that tuna steak had made from ‘bait to plate’ - even down to when, where and which boat caught it.

Well, that’s now possible, thanks to a new wave of technology being trialled by WWF and partners in the Pacific islands.

tuna fish subsidies fishery sustainability food blockchain technology illegal fishing ethical consumer pacific oceans biodiversity
This scannable technology could help you trace the fish you buy
Image: Netflix/WWF

Blockchain could revolutionize tuna fishing - making illegal fishing impossible, protecting fish stocks, and allowing consumers to know with certainty the fish on their plate is sustainably sourced.

“If you have the opportunity as a consumer to know with confidence that you’re buying from a fishery that engages in sustainable and ethical practices, then of course you would want to do that,” says Bubba Cook, WWF Pacific.

The tank is almost empty

More than half of the world’s tuna comes from the Pacific Ocean. But tuna fisheries are at a turning point, says Cook.

The Pacific bluefin tuna is “heavily overfished and the biomass is at near historically low levels," according to the latest report from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

tuna fish subsidies fishery sustainability food blockchain technology illegal fishing ethical consumer pacific oceans biodiversity
Illegal fishing drives declines in certain fish stocks. Traceability can help fight those declines.
Image: International Seafood Sustainability Foundation

“We have seen heavy depletion in certain stocks, like for instance the Pacific bluefin tuna which is at less than 3% of its historic biomass. That should be a shocking figure for anyone that the historic stock has been depleted to the point where the tank is almost empty,” says Cook.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to marine biodiversity, the sustainability and balance of marine ecosystems, and to fish populations worldwide.

But it also impacts fisheries. The estimated average IUU catch in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean in 2009 had a value of up to $1.5 billion, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Illegal catches of skipjack, yellowfin, albacore and bigeye tunas are estimated at $548 million annually.

“If we don’t improve traceability and address illegal fishing then we’re going to see continued declines in our fisheries,” says Cook.

How blockchain can help

By preventing illegal activities, blockchain technology could help tuna stocks to recover and help fisheries worldwide.

Blockchain can track the journey of a single fish, recording information regarding where it was caught and how it was processed.

Once that information enters the system, it is verified by a network of thousands of computers, making it impossible to manipulate or falsify.

In the Pacific Island tuna industry, WWF initially partnered with global blockchain venture studio ConsenSys, ICT implementer TraSeable, and tuna fishing and processing company Sea Quest Fiji Ltd on a pilot to stamp out illegal fishing and slave labour.

tuna fish subsidies fishery sustainability food blockchain technology illegal fishing ethical consumer pacific oceans biodiversity
This scanning feature could wipe out the market for illegal tuna.
Image: WWF/Netflix

Since the success of the tuna pilot, WWF partnered with BCG Digital Ventures to co-found OpenSC, a new impact venture with a mission to drive increased responsible production and consumption through supply-chain traceability and transparency technology. OpenSC has developed a platform solution that is now functioning at scale to verify and trace large amounts of Patagonian Toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass) and prawns, and is also expanding into food products including dairy, palm oil and coffee.

If blockchain were to be fully implemented, it would be impossible for any illegal or unreported tuna to enter the market, says Cook.

“Because it’s immutable and tamper-proof, blockchain creates an opportunity for verification and validation. It allows retailers and buyers to understand where [fish] is coming from.

“In time, we’re going to see blockchain become the industry standard for transparency and traceability.

“It’s really exciting to think about the potential for that technology and what it could mean in terms of helping consumers make the right choices and drive things in a sustainable and ethical direction.”