Supply chain transparency and seafood

“If we are all going to have to get naked, we might as well get buff.” This quote from Andy Ruben, the first CSO of Walmart, is in reference to transparency. The statement came up during our interviews with companies who have already begun their journey toward greater supply chain transparency. The quote touches on a number of issues we heard repeatedly in our discussions with seafood and supply-chain experts: 1. There is inevitability to greater supply chain transparency — it is something we are all likely going to have to work toward. 2. Get ahead of it — having a “buff” supply chain not only means better control of you product, but also better control of your brand. 3. Everybody’s a little self-conscious about exposing their supply chain. O.k., let’s leave it there.

If there is an industry synonymous with keeping sources secret, it would be fishing and seafood. It is also a market that survived for a long time on price and quality alone — so there were not a lot of questions in the marketplace about which to be transparent. The business model of supply-chain secrecy is being challenged by a transparent model in seafood. Demand from upstream supply chain actors, especially more inquisitive consumers, is often cited as a driver toward greater transparency. The ability to respond to and address problems in the supply chain — whether slavery or salmonella — is also cited as an impetus for transparency. But perhaps the most interesting reason cited by the seafood stakeholders was not just control of the supply chain, but control of the conversation about the supply chain and seafood generally. As we heard from Neil Radix at Blueyou, “As markets are becoming increasingly concerned with sourcing ethics, it becomes equally if not more important to get in front of the issue and tell your story to your customers and ultimately the end user.

The connection Radix makes between supply chain transparency and having better control of the narrative about seafood may not be obvious when a company is first thinking about transparency. This makes it a great example of what we hope the following resources can provide — a better understanding of some of the transparency challenges and opportunities in seafood.

If we want to have seafood become the protein of the future, which it is well positioned to do, transparency will be essential. 

There is some great work being done around traceability at organizations like FishWise, WWF, and Future of Fish, which are laying the foundation for future conservation of healthy fisheries and ecosystems. And groups like Oceana are addressing issues like fraud through better traceability and transparency. Transparency is really a way to create market value for the traceability and good supply chain management many companies are already practicing. Another way to think about transparency is Traceability + Reporting = Transparency. Our hope is that the resources we are sharing here will help the seafood industry think about how to reap market benefits from the important traceability work in seafood and position seafood as the best choice in the marketplace for a healthy, well-managed protein.

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