Geotagging Fish to Prevent Fraud

June 21, 2015

For many environmentally conscious diners, where their food comes from is almost as important as the food itself. Followers of the “farm-to-table” movement try to avoid items made on industrial-scale factory farms in favor of locally produced, organic goods. Over the years this concept has expanded from the stands at local farmers’ markets and into mainstream foodie culture. But while this concept works for farm-cultivated products like vegetables, beef and poultry, following fish from “ocean-to-table” is trickier to pull off.

The international fishing industry is a sprawling entity that’s grown far too large for the planet’s good. Despite regulations that try to limit overfishing and fraud, The Pew Charitable Trusts estimate that one in five fish taken from the ocean is caught illegally. Fishermen sometimes purposefully mislabel their catch in order to avoid fines for exceeding their quotas. Other times they do it simply to boost profits. Either way, the problem is becoming increasingly widespread: one study that performed DNA tests on 1,200 fish samples found one-third had been mislabeled. This is bad news for fishermen and consumers alike. After all, now more than ever people are willing to pay a premium for sourced foods. If the fishing industry loses the consumers’ trust, it may not be able to win it back.

Fortunately, a San Francisco startup called Shellcatch is looking to reverse this damaging trend. By outfitting their clients’ fishing boats with GPS technology, the company can pinpoint exactly where a particular fish was caught. Once the nets are hauled on deck, the fish are weighed on a video-equipped scale that tags them with bar codes and QR codes. This allows diners to scan their smartphone over a Shellcatch-affiliated restaurant’s menu and discover the origin of their meal. Fishermen tend to earn an additional 25 percent from fish caught with Shellcatch tech thanks to the interest of upscale restaurants and supermarkets. So far the company is working primarily with fishermen in Mexico and Chile, with 250 signing on in the latter. If Shellcatch continues to succeed, it will likely expand its “smart-fishing” operations to the U.S. and beyond.

 

Questions:

  1. Does Shellcatch appear to have a bright future in business?
  1. Is the “farm-to-table” movement a fad or a long-lasting consumer demand?

 

Source: Catherine Elton, “Tracing the Fish on Your Plate Back to the Sea,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, May 21, 2015. Photo by: Vincent Lin.

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