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Modern supply chains often comprise of a complex network of people and companies across multiple countries. They produce, transform, aggregate, separate, package, transport, store, sell and serve goods and services. One of the more complex supply chains in the world is that involving seafood, which globally handles 179 million tonnes of product.
Fresh seafood is highly perishable and has a very short shelf life. In the UK, up to 492 thousand tonnes of seafood are classed as by-products or waste. In tackling this, the fishmeal route is currently the most common use of fish waste. Fish waste has nutritional components which increase the value of fishmeal such as being rich in protein, valuable oils, minerals, enzymes, pigments, and flavours. It is therefore of interest and importance for details of the fish to be available throughout the supply chain from catch to ensure food safety, quality, prove legality and verify sustainability. Additionally, the lack of product origin information and supply chain transparency can pose significant risks and can impact brand value and question corporate social responsibility initiatives. It is therefore important to establish a robust supply chain with standardised documentation, record keeping and tracking protocols. At the same time, it is challenging to implement new protocols, technologies, and behaviours across a supply chain that has historically been quite opaque and reliant on manual information-gathering.
The SeaTrace project aimed to identify and create a list of commonly held data elements that were crucial to all actors of the UK seafood supply chain, as well as to make recommendations for how to implement track and trace technologies that would allow supply chain members to share data. It aimed to query diverse actors in the supply chain with the aim of making recommendations that would unify the industry and minimise “sunk costs” or unnecessary operational changes for any particular actor.
Seafood Supply Chain Challenges
As part of the SeaTrace project, HSSMI and MarinTrust brought together key stakeholders, including retailers, pet food industry representatives, feed producers, processors, and fishmeal plants, to discuss the challenges in the supply chain, technology gaps and how to overcome them. The identified challenges included:
– Sustainability – Overfishing of wild caught fish in varying areas is a large concern for the industry. It is of interest for the downstream supply chain to assure their produce is caught by compliant vessels.
– Pollution – Physical and environmental elements can pollute waters leading to toxic environments for fish. It is important to prevent this type of contamination.
– Food safety – Related to the above, it is important to assure the fish is not farmed in toxic waters and that the waters are free from physical, chemical, and microbiological contamination (such as plastics, heavy metals, environmental pollutants and toxins).
– Fish fraud – Over 30% of seafood is mislabelled and registered under a different species in order to secure higher prices. This is fraud and important to take action against as it also diminishes quality.
– Adoption of track and trace technologies – Benefits of track and trace technologies are acknowledged, however, there are concerns around investment, implementation and how to ensure certified produce will not be mixed with uncertified produce.
By building upon work done throughout the project to identify the relevant key data elements (KDEs) and through further workshops and surveys, HSSMI was able to map the processes involved in the supply chain, capturing the data requirements and process data for each phase. This work coupled with key stakeholder insights helped clarify the processes, limitations, and challenges at each node.
The stakeholder workshop discussions revealed data challenges pertaining mainly to robustness of data capture and data sharing practices. Specifically, the co-existence of manual data entry and electronic logbooks poses a critical challenge in maintaining data integrity and a single source of truth. Additionally, once data in supply chain is captured there are concerns around data ownership and security as there is a perceived lack of value in sharing data. Even when stakeholders do wish to share their data, the diversity of systems coupled with lack of integration creates a huge bottleneck in data exchange. Matters are complicated further in such an international supply chain with varying traceability requirements between the EU and the UK.
Applying Modern Technologies to the Seafood Supply Chain
Identifying these challenges provided a foundation upon which to explore how modern technologies for traceability, data collection, and storage, could be applied to the seafood by-products supply chain. It also provided valuable insight into how to design the system architecture required to support data capture, transmission, and exchange. The system architecture below presents an overview of all the systems identified in the supply chain and highlights how each system could be connected to another within the same framework. This type of representation creates the foundation for developing conceptual models defining the subsystems and system structure required to implement a connected supply chain to support end-to-end traceability.
This architecture has been presented to key stakeholders with the aim of discussing the business case and functional requirements. Initial conversations have revealed opportunities for collaboration and potential for designing a robust digital solution to address the key traceability requirements of the identified supply chain.
Identifying the current challenges is an important step toward designing relevant solutions that can be applied across the seafood supply chain. In particular, the process of mapping the seafood supply chain provided valuable insight into the complexity and variability of processes and reinforced the requirements for clear guidelines.
There are countless long-term benefits of this work, one of them being transferability to other low-tech industries who may not want to invest in very highly technical traceability systems. Additionally, the increasing availability of energy consumption data across the seafood supply chain can be utilised to minimise the environmental impact of seafood supply chains. Especially data that relates to fish storage and preservation could provide useful insights into how this is managed and if sustainable energy sources can be an option.