Conference Board of Canada endorses seafood traceability

Conference Board of Canada endorses seafood traceability

Dec 14, 2013
Conference Board of Canada endorses seafood traceability

The Conference Board of Canada has published a new report on improving the competitiveness of Canada’s commercial fisheries that strongly recommends seafood traceability. The report authors, Jean-Charles Le Vallée and Alison Howard, go so far as to recognize ThisFish as ”a leading market-based Canadian example of a voluntary electronic traceability system for seafood that contributes to sustainable and responsible fishing.”

Titled Strengthening Canada’s Commercial Fisheries and Aquaculture: From Fin to Fork, the report looks at growth opportunities for Canada’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors and also investigates market trends, environmental sustainability challenges and opportunities to improve the sector’s economic prosperity.

“The high levels of fish [seafood] mislabelling in Canada call for proper identification and greater traceability in the sector, because it exposes consumers to food safety concerns, and may cause them to overpay for products of a lower value or to consume endangered species,” the authors conclude.

Here’s what the report had to say on mislabeling, traceability, ThisFish and a recommended solution:


Mislabelling Problematic for the Sector

Mislabelling, a global and Canadian concern, makes it difficult for the consumer to make informed choices. In the U.S., a 2013 report found that 33 per cent of fish samples analyzed through DNA testing nationwide were mislabelled. Of the most commonly collected fish, samples sold as snapper and tuna had the highest mislabelling rates (87 and 59 per cent respectively); salmon was mislabelled in 7 per cent of the samples analyzed. Among retailers, sushi restaurants ranked as the highest offenders, followed by other restaurants, and grocery stores.

In Canada, tests in 2010 found that one out of every five fish purchased in Canadian stores and DNA tested was mislabelled.34 A 2011 study by the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph looked at samples from five Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Gatineau, Montréal, and Québec City) and found that 41 per cent of fish was mislabelled. These disturbing results prompted a call for proper identification and greater traceability in the sector, because mislabelling exposes consumers to additional food safety concerns and may cause them to overpay for fish and seafood products of lower value or to consume endangered species of fish and seafood.

Fish and Seafood Traceability Rising

Fish and seafood traceability addresses sustainability, sourcing, and labelling. In addition, since traceability runs along the supply chain from source to point of sale, it can support food recalls due to human health concerns (e.g., shellfish toxins). At the federal level, DFO monitors fish landings (counts), addressing concerns with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU ) fish and seafood. DFO also provides IUU certification that attests that Canadian exported fish comes from legal sources. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency administers the fish inspection regulations and labelling requirements that apply to food products traded and sold outside a Canadian province or territory from a federally registered establishment.

For additional ideas, Canada can look to other nations with stricter systems in place as models. For instance, Australia implemented its Fish Names Standard in 2007 and has a well-recognized country-of-origin labelling system.  Elsewhere, the Korean Seafood Traceability System, managed by the government, monitors all seafood farmed and captured in the country, with 351 participating companies as of 2008.  More recently, because the EU implemented a traceability system in 2010 for all seafood imported into the EU, all Canadian seafood exported to the EU needs to be traceable back to a vessel or group of vessels and to be certified as legal by appropriate government authorities. In response, Canada provides catch certificates to export markets such as the EU, attesting that fish and fish products originate from non-IUU (that is, legal) fisheries.

In the U.S., a bill was introduced in March 2013 to “strengthen Federal consumer protection and product traceability with respect to commercially marketed seafood, and for other purposes.” To be called the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act, it would mandate, if passed, traceability on all seafood in the United States. In Canada, pilot traceability initiatives are underway at the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance and the Fisheries Council of Canada.  One example of a pilot traceability system for aquaculture is the Offspring Traceability initiative, which uses DNA tracking to follow each fish through the value chain. Consumers will be able to use an in-store scanner or home computer to enter a code and see “at which hatchery their fish was spawned, in which ocean pen it was raised, at which plant it was processed, what it was fed, and whether it was given any medical treatments during its life cycle.”

 ThisFish, a more established market-based initiative, is a leading Canadian example of a voluntary electronic traceability system for seafood that contributes to sustainable and responsible fishing. (See box “ThisFish: A Web-Based Traceability System.”) These efforts also help to control against IUU fishing, and they benefit consumers and the prosperity of the entire supply chain.


7. Improve and Promote Eco-Certification Efforts

All along the supply chain, the fish and seafood sector should continue to invest in and meet eco-certification criteria, standards, best practices, and traceability targets. This involves addressing mislabelling, IUU, and sustainability challenges. Indeed, the sector must address issues beyond its borders to improve international collaboration and cooperation to protect and sustainably use the fishery, as well as combat IUU in international waters.