Studies show one-fifth of all wild-caught fish are caught illegally and 90% of fish supplies have been overharvested.
The U.S. Coast Guard has declared illegal fishing a more significant global threat than piracy. By stepping up patrols, the U.S. is showing that it is taking the issue of illegal fishing seriously.
Unfortunately, however, illegal fishing remains a global problem, which is worse than ever. Aquaculture produces over 200 million tons of seafood annually, making it one of the world’s essential food suppliers. The fishing industry has also implemented sustainable practices such as automating fish food supply in fisheries and using lead-free fishing gear.
Yet the industry has also been criticized for illegal overfishing practices and human rights violations. Studies show one-fifth of all wild-caught fish are caught illegally and 90% of the world’s fish supply has been overharvested. These actions, if left unchecked, can have devastating consequences for the ocean’s ecosystems.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) has been a problem in the fishing industry for years. Unfortunately, illegal fishing is unlike any other form of crime. While each nation has its regulations to curb illegal fishing, the oceans on the planet are vast, making up about 70% of the Earth’s surface. This makes it very hard to track the perpetrators down.
There is a need for more significant observation within the aquaculture industry, which is where blockchain technology can help.
Blockchain is a digital system that records transactions and other data in multiple places at once. Unlike traditional databases that store data in files, a blockchain stores data in digital blocks. When complete, these blocks are closed and chained to another block — hence the name.
This type of storage makes it easy to manage and track when data is added to the chain. Moreover, a blockchain network consists of multiple computers that maintain copies of the transactions, which are all updated simultaneously when new data is available.
Blockchain technology saw its first widespread use during the introduction of cryptocurrency, but it has a wide range of applications. It has become invaluable to logistics companies that use it to track goods moving through supply chains.
Several industries are now using blockchain technology to form “smart contracts.” These digital contracts use computers to activate services automatically when the agreement conditions are met.
Blockchain and the fishing industry
Blockchain technology can allow the aquaculture industry to monitor where and how fish are caught in a way traditional paperwork never could. Fisheries worldwide are already beginning to adopt the technology to reduce IUU.
Fish get a barcode that tracks how the fisherman caught them, their whereabouts, how much time it took to get from one place to another and how much time it spent in that particular place. The barcode tells the entire story of the fish, from the boat to the grocery store.
A strict observation like this makes it much easier to find illegal fishers, forcing them to comply with fishing regulations. In addition, blockchain technology is nearly tamper-proof due to using multiple computers to make up a server.
Blockchain technology used in this way can also give consumers peace of mind. Using traditional tracking methods makes it almost impossible to tell if a fish was sourced from where it says on the label.
For example, studies have found that 190,000 tons of fish are mislabeled and sold yearly, mixing up farmed and wild-caught fish. This can damage a grocery brand because consumers are not getting the fish they paid for. Having a label that shows consumers the entire journey their fish has taken when scanned reassures consumers that they are getting their money’s worth.
Utilizing blockchain technology might provide the means to finally counter the problem of illegal fishing as more companies incorporate it into their fishing process. Only time will tell how the fishing industry will make use of these exciting developments.
However, as the rate of illegal operations rises, focusing on innovations like the blockchain will become critical. When the world’s food supply and survivability are at stake, everyone in the fishing supply chain must use new methods to improve sustainability.
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