Julie Kuchepatov is Seafood Director at Fair Trade USA

SeaWeb: What do you think is the future of traceability and transparency?

Julie Kuchepatov: Full traceability allows seafood products to be traced throughout the supply chain back to the point of harvest. Currently, transparency of product flow from high seas vessels, out at sea for months at a time and where transshipping of product often occurs, is lacking. How to ensure effective and accurate traceability through monitoring and enforcement on such vessels is the nut to be cracked. Many strides have been made in traceability technologies, but they alone are not enough. Monitoring and enforcement must be a part of the equation to guarantee a fully traceable seafood supply chain and ensure the legality, safety, and sustainability of the product.   

In seafood, a lot of distributors already have systems in place to trace fish back to vessels, but the challenge is moving that info through the supply chain. In the future, we need to emphasize the importance of communicating this information throughout the supply chain and ultimately to the consumer through proactive, transparent reporting.

SeaWeb: How does your company, or your client companies, think about traceability? Do they think about it mainly in terms of supply chain management, or as a way to communicate to the marketplace?

Julie Kuchepatov: Companies with whom we work know that traceability is a hot topic in the mind of consumers. More and more, consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it was made, grown, or harvested. Many companies have sustainable sourcing policies with some level of transparency and traceability requirements in order to meet that market demand. You can’t satisfy the consumer’s needs without strengthening supply chain management.

We also see client companies using traceability to demonstrate their sustainability beyond requirements set by labels and certification schemes, supplying information on catch methods, vessels, species and so on. This specificity is only gained by direct sourcing from co-ops or fishermen, and by knowing first hand who is catching the product. The best companies see these types of relationships as true partnerships. With bigger distributors, it’s harder to get specific information about the impacts of the product. Some companies have strong traceability systems in place and some are still working to improve their systems. Seafood is a vital part of our food economy. It’s important that it be here for future generations, and our partners are embracing transparency and traceability as a necessary part of that. Sustainability, and ensuring traceability of a seafood product, helps to ensure supply for the future.

Food safety is often a concern for consumers as well. If a product is fully traceable, food safety concerns can be minimized. Legislation concerning the legality of seafood imported into the U.S. was recently passed, requiring greater transparency and traceability. Companies unable to provide full supply chain traceability for at-risk species may run into difficulties importing that product into the U.S., let alone getting it on the shelves of U.S. supermarkets.

SeaWeb: How should companies think about traceability and transparency?

Julie Kuchepatov: Companies should not be afraid to fully disclose their sources. Opening your supply chain for closer scrutiny does not mean trade secrets will be compromised. The decision to be transparent does mean, however, that you are willing to bear all to your customer and work to make improvements where necessary. This consumer trust can carry long-term dividends such as strengthened brand loyalty.

Traceability also makes good business sense. If a company knows where the product is in any given link in the supply chain, it is easier to pinpoint where things may go wrong, isolate issues, and correct problems almost immediately. This can save time and money in the long run and lead to a more effective and streamlined supply chain.

SeaWeb: What are some examples of companies getting market value from traceability?

Julie Kuchepatov: Being able to tell a story about the origin or provenance of your seafood product and/or the fisherman who caught it is a huge market value that supply chain traceability can help provide. Consumers can choose which brands to support based on the stories behind their products and what resonates with them. For Fair Trade CertifiedTM products, we’ve found that consumers engage more with products that have a backstory. Having a traceability system that provides the detailed information needed to tell that backstory – whether it’s on the packaging, on a website, or on social media, helps differentiate products in supermarkets, in turn making it easier for consumers to shop their values.

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