Traceability to help Newfoundland tell its unique story to the world

Traceability to help Newfoundland tell its unique story to the world

Apr 24, 2014
Traceability to help Newfoundland tell its unique story to the world

The world will now be able to find out if their seafood came from such colourfully named places as Black Duck Brook, Cow Head, Spirity Cove, Shag Island and a place simply known as The Bank. These are only a few of the 80 Newfoundland fishing ports where traceable Atlantic halibut and lobster will come ashore this spring and summer.

Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW-Unifor) has teamed up with ThisFish to make halibut and lobster from Newfoundland’s Southwest Coast and Gulf of St. Lawrence traceable this season. So far, some 250 Newfoundland harvesters have registered with ThisFish and FFAW-Unifor expects the number to reach 300 by summer. These harvesters are expected to land about 500,000 traceable live lobsters and 250,000 pounds of traceable, fresh Atlantic halibut this season.

The only thing more colourful than Newfoundland’s place names are the people who live there with their unique dialects, folk songs and proud fishing culture. Skippers typically work from small-scale boats and dories with hooks, lines and traps. Most are day-boats, returning each afternoon or evening with live lobsters or fresh halibut. Small-scale, day-boat fisheries are known to produce exceptional freshness and quality.

While these artisanal fishing methods date back generations, FFAW-Unifor believes fisheries of the future will be about building a regional brand identity and connecting producers with consumers through new traceability and social networking technologies.

“We are using traceability to improve the sustainability of our inshore halibut fishery and to boost the branding and marketing of our premium quality lobsters and halibut,” says David Decker, FFAW-Unifor Secretary-Treasurer. “We have a unique story to tell about our small-scale fisheries and we believe consumers in Canada and abroad will respond to it in a positive way. We want to increase the value of our seafood, improve incomes to rural fishing communities and differentiate our products in the global marketplace.”

Last year, FFAW-Unifor in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans implemented mandatory tagging of all halibut caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (NAFO Fishing Area 4R) to improve fisheries management. Fish harvesters had to tag each halibut with a unique code and register its weight with a monitoring service.

CAPTION: Tags like this will be fastened to the "collar" on dressed halibut by fish harvesters.

This summer more than half the harvesters will be using ThisFish coded tags, allowing the public to trace the halibut back to an individual harvester using a smartphone, tablet or computer. Consumers can even send a private message to their harvester via ThisFish’s website. Click this link to see an example of a trace.

Fish harvesters have set up Facebook-like profiles on ThisFish and can login to a private dashboard where they can read consumer comments and see an interactive map of where their catch has been traced.

CAPTION: Captain George Francis with one of the first traceable halibut of the season in Port aux Basqes, Newfoundland. 

“Most fish harvesters have no idea where their fish goes or who is eating it, but ThisFish has now changed that,” says Mandy Ryan Francis, the FFAW-Unifor’s traceability coordinator based in Port aux Basques. “The tracing activity map and consumer comments have proven to be immensely popular features among fish harvesters. They’re fascinated to see who is eating their catch and are genuinely heartened to receive thank-you messages from appreciative consumers.”

The first ThisFish-tagged halibut from Newfoundland’s south coast hit the market in the beginning of April. However, the largest fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence will take place from late June until August.

The first lobster fishery opens on April 23 on the South Coast with subsequent openings in lobster fishing areas on the West Coast extending until July 10.

FFAW-Unifor has been working on developing this initiative for more than two years, ever since a smaller traceability pilot project involving ThisFish and 11 harvesters ended in 2012. If the initiative proves successful, FFAW-Unifor hopes to expand traceability to other fisheries and species in the province.


Seafood buyers interested to purchase fresh Atlantic halibut or live lobsters can obtain a list of local Newfoundland lobster and halibut buyers by contacting Mandy Ryan Francis, FFAW-Unifor Traceability Coordinator, at  at tel: (709) 660-3265.

Traceable Halibut Fisheries: April, May and June-August

Traceable Lobster Fisheries: April-July