From Ocean To Table: Bumble Bee Uses Blockchain To Trace Your Fish

Judith Magyar

Have you ever stood in a supermarket aisle with a package of fish in your hand, curious about its journey from the deep blue sea? Wondering who caught it, packed it, and shipped it?

“More and more, our consumers and customers want complete transparency in food sourcing and safety,” says Tony Costa, CIO of Bumble Bee Foods, one of North America’s largest and most iconic seafood brands since 1899. “Thanks to blockchain technology, shoppers will soon be able to gain valuable insights about their fish and how it was sustainably caught by simply scanning a QR code on their mobile phones.”

Creating a better planet

According to a recent World Economic Forum report on building blockchains for a better planet, experts in the fishing industry believe emerging technologies like blockchain can be used to track a fish from “bait to plate,” providing transparency and better data for decision making and sustainable management.

“We’re very excited about implementing a blockchain solution for Bumble Bee’s Natural Blue by Anova yellowfin tuna product,” says Costa, referring to Anova Food, acquired by Bumble Bee in 2014 and a global leader in sourcing wild-caught and farm-raised fish. “We’re working with a number of partners, including the Indonesian government, suppliers, processors, and NGOs like Fair Trade USA, to trace our tuna from its source in Indonesia to the store in the U.S.”

Handline sourcing in clean water

Costa has made the trip to Ampera Village on Indonesia’s Seram Island several times to meet the men and women behind the Fair Trade Certified fishery, whose livelihoods depend on the catch of the day. As a Fair Trade Certified fishery, fisherman are ensured fair wages and safe working conditions, contributing to the overall protection of the environment and continuous community improvement.

“It is truly an amazing experience to visit these remote Indonesian fishing villages and see how we share a passion for sustainable fishing and commitment to the environment,” says Costa. “When the fishermen return with their catch, the village comes out to celebrate. The fish are taken to the local buying post, where the blockchain begins.”

Jafar, one of the local men who makes his living catching yellowfin tuna for American and Japanese consumers, says he is proud that technology can tell the story of his hard work and attest to the freshness and quality of his catch.

The ocean-to-table story has many chapters.

The fishermen’s catches are delivered to the receiving plants, the first scanning point on the blockchain.

“We’re not just selling fish,” explains Robert Tjoanda, owner of the plant and a supplier to Anova, who believes the blockchain project will give him a competitive edge. “The QR code tells the story of the fish – where it came from, how it was processed, who caught it. This kind of information is what separates us and proves our fish comes from clean ocean waters and fair trade conditions.”

Testing for quality

The story continues in the laboratory, which provides ISO-17025 certification, the highest standard for quality assurance worldwide.

“The results from this laboratory can’t be manipulated because it is an independent entity managing the blockchain information,” Costa explains. “This is why the use of blockchain technology is so important.”

It is important in a world where one in five people eat tuna. Tracking and monitoring the fish that are caught and processed is not possible without technology. Bumble Bee has a long history of sustainable tuna production. As a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), the company drives a global partnership among scientists, tuna processors, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the global conservation organization.

“For us, it’s important that fish are harvested legally in a place where future generations will be able to enjoy the seafood as well,” Costa says. “Our fisheries are managed using science and data, taking into account the impact of fishing on the species and the ecosystem.”

Building blocks for trust

According to Don Tapscott, CEO of the Tapscott Group and co-founder and executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute, blockchain can be programmed to record not just financial transactions, but virtually everything of value and importance to humankind. This flexibility makes it ideal for the supply chain, where multiple parties come together and are constantly exchanging documentation.

Here’s how it works: Transaction data are bundled into digital blocks. Each new block is linked to the previous block, creating a continuous chain. When a block gets added, the blockchain node sends the data to the network to be verified by all the other nodes, triggering a consensus algorithm for authenticity and coherency. This process ensures that no one can undo the block, remove an old transaction, or create a new block to cover up wrongdoing.

Besides giving the consumer detailed data on the origin of the product, Bumble Bee’s blockchain project also brings together third-party suppliers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) so they can access relevant fishing key performance indicators (KPIs), such as how many fish were purchased by landing site, fisherman, and date, and use a monitoring dashboard to help ensure the data provided by Anova is tamper-proof.

This way, everyone who has ever touched the tuna can be authenticated. But it’s not just about tracking fish from ocean to table. Industry experts and environmentalists believe blockchain can enable DNA barcoding and smart contracts that give specific resource rights to communities or fishers.

While blockchain is still in its infancy, companies like Bumble Bee and Anova are pioneering new technology like analytics that is not only changing the way goods travel around the world, but positively impacting ecosystems and the lives of the people all the way down the line. And they don’t have to go it alone. A full suite of innovation services supports companies as they discover what is possible with leading technologies.

The new app and dashboard give people a way to drill in and out to see information from different perspectives. The app is based on permissions, so each player only sees data relevant to them, but the chain itself is foolproof.

Costa says, “The new focus on cloud-based analytics and platforms, coupled with blockchain, helped us envision a new way to embrace technology while keeping the end solutions simple and centered around our users. Since the solution is in the cloud, our provider can focus on the software while we take care of our fishermen and the fish.”

Bumble BeeNatural Blue by Anova yellowfin tuna can be found at Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper, and Safeway stores nationwide in the U.S.

For more on blockchain’s role in the ethical supply chain, see “Can Blockchain Replace EDI In The Supply Chain?

This article originally appeared on SAP News Center.