When you buy fish, do you have confidence that what you’ve purchased is as advertised at the point of purchase? According to the state attorney general’s office in New York, there is a good likelihood that what you’ve purchased is not even the same species as the one specified on the label. There could be a very promising solution to what the attorney general’s office calls “rampant” seafood mislabeling, though: blockchain technology.

The attorney general’s office purchased fish from 155 stores across 29 supermarket brands throughout the state, and then sent them to a lab for testing. A remarkable number of the specimens—more than one in every four, or 27%—were not what the supermarkets said they were. The complete results of the experiment are found here, with this conclusion:

“While mislabeling affected virtually every tested seafood category, there was rampant mislabeling of certain species. The results suggest that consumers who buy lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper are more likely to receive an entirely different fish. Similarly, consumers who bought what was advertised as ‘wild’ salmon often actually received farm-raised salmon instead. Such consumers had often paid more money—on average 34% more—to avoid farm raised fish.”

The report also notes that in many cases, consumers are getting fish that is less sustainably raised than claimed, and in some cases, they are unknowingly buying types of fish that can cause gastrointestinal problems. In addition, according to an article by Forbes, a report conducted between 2010 and 2012 by a marine surveying organization, Oceana, identified that as many as one in three seafood products in the United States were incorrectly labeled. Needless to say, a solution is needed, and pronto.

Enter blockchain. The disruptive new technology promises to make traditional paper ledger-based transactions obsolete, replaced by digital ledgers, and it also promises to guarantee more accountability and trust in the food supply chain. Headlines abound heralding how blockchain technology will revolutionize financial services markets, which remain burdened by unwieldy paper trails and costly proprietary software applications. Not everyone realizes, though, the move toward developing blockchain has direct roots in the erosion of trust that grew as the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 exploded around the globe.

Blockchain allows people to record transactions securely via a decentralized platform without a lot of intermediaries. Because of the advantages it can bring to the process of tracing food sources, it may also be a big part of the answer in fighting fish fraud.

According to Forbes: “Some companies are already using blockchain technology to track their supply chain – for example, an initiative called Tuna on the Blockchain provides a provenance system so that you will know where you tuna comes from. Back in late 2016 it was reported that a British-based start-up called Provenance went out to Indonesia and tested tracking tuna on the blockchain.”

There are a number of corporate and legislative proposals in motion, which could require detailed seafood product labeling. Legit Fish is a Boston-based company that is dedicated to improving the traceability and verification of seafood products. The company has developed a seafood traceability database that compares confidential data from supply chain participants to landings data collected by the government in order to provide seafood dealers, processors, retailers, and their customers a solid verification of each individual lot of product that has been transacted.  As this story notes, Legit Fish is working with companies such as BASE that are integrating seafood traceability solutions with blockchain.

At a meetup that The Spoon held in July, blockchain was very much on the minds of fishermen in attendance. They see blockchain as a way to not only prove provenance, but also to help them from getting unfair blame for fraudulent acts that take place down the fish delivery chain. Recently, we wrote about how blockchain technology could have helped quickly mitigate the crisis involving E.coli and Romaine lettuce in California. In a similar way, by providing better sourcing information and, importantly, more open food sourcing information, blockchain could make fish fraud much tougher to pull off than it is now.

At a 2018 Smart Kitchen Summit panel, executives from ripe.io and Walmart discussed the promise of blockchain in the food industry, food safety, and which groups of people need to get connected for blockchain solutions to work. Watch the video to hear the whole conversation.

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