Tracking & health in fisheries

The fisheries of the North Atlantic have long fuelled Norway’s economy, starting with the dried cod traded by 12th century Norsemen, to Norway’s wild caught fisheries of today, which in 2008 totalled a record NOK 18.9 billion in exports.

 But these days, wild capture fisheries are under increasing pressure from illegal and unreported catch of fish, which can put carefully managed fish populations at risk. Estimates from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas, an advisory group made up of 20 member countries bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, puts illegal fishing levels of species such as Northeast Arctic cod at 115,000 tonnes, or about 20% of the overall catch. In fact, the European Commission estimates the value of illegally caught fish imported into the European Union at more than EUR 1.1 billion.

Norwegians take this issue seriously. Helga Pedersen, Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, has actively worked to stop this international high seas problem, urging the European Commission and United Nations to advance regulations on inspections to prevent illegal takes. At home, they’ve enlisted Norwegian ingenuity in developing tracking technologies so that consumers worldwide know when they eat delicious Norwegian wild-caught fish, it has been harvested sustainably and handled safely and humanely.

The Norwegian government’s efforts are paying off. In mid-2008, officials reported the illegal Barents Sea cod catch had been cut from 80,000 tonnes in 2006 to 40,000 tonnes in 2007, the result of intensive international diplomatic efforts. “We have won the first battle, but the players that operate large-scale unreported fishing can now try to work around new regulations or to continue their criminal activity of new fisheries in other parts of the world,” Pedersen said at the time. “We are going to actively work internationally to prevent this.”

 

Norwegian fishermen have been catching cod off of the Lofoten Islands for centuries. Protecting this resource is of utmost importance to the Norwegian government.
© Kjell Ove Storvik/Norwegian Seafood Export Council



Traceability from Fin to Fork
The journey of a fish from the time it is caught the ocean until it is a tasty meal can involve many individual steps with quite a bit of paperwork, says Eskil Forås, a research scientist at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture. The goal, of course, is to eliminate the paper without losing the information. “In Norway, we don’t want to have any more paperwork than necessary,” he says. Tracing fish “should be done electronically.”

Forås is a researcher with the Norwegian E-traceability Project, initiated in December, 2007 to produce a national electronic infrastructure for exchanging information on the entire Norwegian food supply chain by 2010.

While the E-traceability project covers the entire food system and not just fish, the group has selected three fisheries-related areas for pilot projects: tracing fish in the domestic market, tracing white fish such as cod, sei and haddock, and salmon farming. These efforts are widely supported throughout the industry, by companies and institutes such as Vikomar AS, Naustvik, Surofi, Nofima, Norges Fiskarlag, the Coop, SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture, Aker Seafoods, the Norwegian Seafood Association, the Norwegian Seafood Federation, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation, TraceTracker, the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, and Det Norske Veritas, along with related government agencies.

At the same time, the European Union has established its own requirements to help battle the illegal fisheries problem. By January 1, 2010, all fish exported to an EU country must be traceable back to its place of origin. The regulations require a catch certificate for each consignment to show where the fish comes from.

Starting on January 1, 2010,
every truckload of wild-caught fish shipped to EU markets will have to clearly document where the fish originate from and
where they were caught.
© Bjørn Winsnes/Norwegian Seafood Export Council

Standards & Language
One of the first steps in enabling traceability is establishing software standards, along with agreed-upon definitions for what different words mean, particularly when it comes to fish species names. “We need standards to exchange information,” SINTEF’s Forås says. “And we need sector specific dictionaries, so that when one party calls a fish a herring, the other party understands what is meant.”

Another challenge comes with different fish products, such as dried or salted fish, or bacalao, a speciality fish product made from dried cod, says Roy Robertsen, a research scientist with the Norwegian Seafood Federation, who is also working with the E-traceability project. “In the case of bacalao, it can be several months before you have products for sale, so you have to take care of those catch certificates back and time and be able to relate them back to the products,” he says.

Norwegians have taken an international leadership role in helping to develop standards. The development of the internationally recognized TraceFish standard was led by a group at Nofima Marked (formerly Fiskeriforskning) in Tromsø.

Another Oslo-based group, TraceTracker, is already marketing an online global information exchange system for the food industry. The group was named in December 2008 by the World Economic Forum as one of 34 international tech pioneers, companies that have developed new technologies or business models that will affect the global economy.

Cod fishing remains a vital industry for Norway, with the export of both fresh and dried cod to countries all over the world.
© Kjell Ove Storvik/Norwegian Seafood Export Council

 


Stress-free Fish & Environmental Labelling

Other groups are working on ways to monitor the condition of farmed fish. Nofima Marine in Tromsø, along with the equipment manufacturer Thelma AS of Trondheim, have developed a SmartTag, which registers the breathing patterns of fish as a measure of the fish’s stress level. The technology recently won a NOK 25,000 prize from the Technology Transfer Office in Tromsø. “We used to monitor the environment around farmed fish, but now we can ask the fish themselves how they are getting on,” said Ragnar Brataas, an advisor to the TTO Tromsø office, in awarding the prize.

Environmental labelling is another important area for Norwegian fish producers. Aker Seafoods, one of Norway’s largest producers and exports of wild caught fish products, has partnered with the environmental group WWF Norway to promote sustainable harvesting, in part by providing environmental certification of cod and haddock by the Marine Stewardship Council. “The environment, traceability and sustainable fisheries are top priorities for Aker Seafoods and its customers in Europe. Environmental certification of saithe sharply boosted demand for environmentally labelled saithe products,” says Aker Seafoods CEO Yngve Myhre.

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