There are various contexts by which ‘transparency’ can be defined though in general terms it refers to the openness and disclosure of information that, ideally, is such that it would allow others to readily see what actions are, or are not, being conducted.  The importance of transparency in civil life was highlighted by right-to-know movements in more advanced economies during the 1960s and 1970s – typically over local industrial pollution or secrecy in government. Since then the ideals of transparency have become an important facet of modern society,      so much so that “unprecedented” openness in U.S. government was a major pledge of Barack Obama in the run-up to his first presidential election.
Society and trust in food
Concerns over such issues as food safety and health, food production impacts, and unfair pricing have long been addressed by food reform and consumer advocacy movements.   As far back as the 1890s, for example, the U.S. ‘pure food’ movement pushed for legislation to “secure honesty” in food product safety. This led, ultimately, to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. in 1906.
Food reform and consumer movements have since extended around much of the globe and, along with environmental and other social movements, are exerting considerable influence on food production. These include such initiatives as Fair Trade and other third party certification schemes, sustainable (sea)food programs (Seafood Watch, Ocean Wise, MSC, ASC, BAP), community-supported agriculture and fisheries, organic food production, worker rights advocacy, food safety and labelling regulations, consumer awareness campaigns, eco-labels, among an array of other endeavours.        
A recurrent theme, however, underlies past and current efforts in reforming food systems: simply, to restore or build trust in food and food product claims.   Transparency initiatives are now seen as central to meeting those objectives.  
Trust, transparency, and seafood
Trust in food, of course, now extends far beyond the original food adulteration issues arising during the 19th century to include an ever-increasing array of social, environmental and ethical concerns and requirements. This has placed seafood production under rapidly expanding scrutiny by numerous stakeholders, particularly given the industry’s impact on global fish stocks and food security and its recalcitrance in addressing overfishing. Widespread mislabeling, ongoing IUU fishing and increasing numbers of reports documenting the use of forced labor, among other concerns, along with rising consumer awareness, are further fueling societal demands for transparency, action and accountability.
Our partners at Edelman Communications have conducted a comprehensive study on consumer trust, called the Trust Barometer, that looks at the relationship between consumer and brands or products.
The opaqueness enveloping seafood supply chains is well documented.   Indeed, a recent FAO report makes mention of a “veil of secrecy” permeating fisheries and, further, suggested that lack of transparency is the “underlying facilitator of all negative aspects of the global fisheries sector.”  This has prompted a variety of stakeholders to embark on a number of recent initiatives, such as:
- development of the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record); initiated by the FAO and endorsed by FAO member states to combat IUU fishing the Global Record is also envisioned as a catalyst to improve overall transparency within the fisheries sector; 
- formation of Global Fishing Watch by Google, Oceana and SkyTruth; uses satellite imagery and data from automatic ship identification systems (AIS) to investigate and monitor global at-sea transshipment, an important facilitator of IUU fishing; 
- implementation of seafood traceability directives by an increasing number of major fish importing countries and regions, such as those recently issued by the U.S. and European Union to counter illegal fishery products from entering the marketplace; 
- formation of a variety of organisations and firms, often multi-stakeholder, that are dedicated to facilitating openness and responsibility in seafood production; examples include Fisheries Transparency Initiative, Ocean Disclosure Project, Seafood Task Force, Seafood Intelligence, Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal, The IFITT Project and Seafish.
Technology and traceability
There is little doubt that increasing transparency and information in supply chains is expected by civil society, industry and retailers, regulatory bodies, NGOs, and government agencies, though numerous challenges on how it can best be organized need to be addressed. Traceability systems are one important enabler of transparency and are increasingly viewed as a vehicle to further the governance and regulation of both fisheries and aquaculture.    However, effective implementation of traceability in the food sector in general is challenging as there are often multiple interacting domains and actors;    this is particularly the case for seafood given its global trade and complex supply systems.
Nonetheless, advancements in information and communication technologies (ICT), such as Big Data analytics, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, molecular technologies and integrated information systems are rapidly transforming the ability of society and industry to promote, operationalize and demonstrate transparency for a range of social, environmental and economic concerns along supply chains. Recent developments include:
- advanced product tracking capabilities involving new generations of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, bar codes, scanners, sensors and RFID readers;  
- advances in metabolomics, genomics and the forensic sciences, for example, for food authentication (i.e., product identification and provenance);   
- virtual monitoring via remote, high-powered sensors from virtual monitoring stations (e.g., mini-satellites, drones) which can then be aggregated and displayed on open-source Web platforms; virtual monitoring appears to have great potential to transform at least some certification schemes by enhancing the auditing of the compliance process, which relies solely on brief, routine, labour-intensive and potentially inaccurate field investigations.
- analysis and research into the efficacy of distributed ledger systems such as blockchain, a technology that shows great promise in providing verifiable and tamper-free chain-of-custody records,   and emerging efforts to design a traceability technology architecture that will enable global interoperable traceability for seafood.
“The marketplace expectations for traceability and transparency seem destined to grow, especially considering we are moving ever deeper into the digital age. Many people, particularly younger generations, expect nearly all information to be readily available at all times. Adding those elements of traceability and transparency into new products is no longer an “add-on”; they are necessities that should be a key component of any long-term business plan.”
Melissa Garren, Chief Science Officer, Pelagic Data Systems, excerpt from SeaWeb’s group interview with traceability and transparency experts
The seafood industry is facing ever-stringent compliance mechanisms along with rising consumer awareness and demands for safe, socially responsible and sustainable food products. At the same time, government and regulatory bodies, corporations and businesses, consumers and a range of other stakeholders are seemingly in agreement that transparency is indispensable for accountability, good governance and business, socially responsible behavior and for increasing trustworthiness and trust.
There is also increasing agreement that companies seeking to further transparency throughout their operations should commit to , academia, government agencies and NGOs, thus taking advantage of collective expertise and action.   
Furthering transparency via investment in effective traceability systems is increasingly being shown to provide a variety of benefits to a company’s triple bottom line, for example by: reducing risk; meeting regulatory and certification requirements; providing access to more accurate and timely information for decision-making; delivering competitive advantage through documenting desirable product characteristics; and perhaps most importantly, building and maintaining trust with end customers; and augmenting social legitimacy.     
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