Thought Leadership

Tracking Tuna from Catch to Customer

Published on
September 16, 2016
Faisal Chaudhuri

How can we ensure the fish we buy is slavery free? The Provenance team piloted blockchain technology to track key data along tuna supply chains in Indonesia.

Last week, we released a detailed report on our work thus far using blockchains as an interoperable base layer for key claims and certifications cascading securely down the supply chain on exchange of goods. This included data access rights and user interfaces for different stakeholders, including the end customer.

Through our pilot, tracking responsibly caught tuna fish from South East Asia, we are pioneering an open, grassroots method for substantiating sustainability claims through supply chains, with the goal of aiding interoperability, preventing “double spend” of claims and certifications, as well is bringing the live journey and verified information behind products to the retail and restaurant experience.

What we “like” vs. what we purchase

Although there are over 10 million digitally-savvy online “ethical shoppers” in the UK, with 30% of UK consumers reporting concern about environmental and social issues, we still find ourselves equipped with very little information for basing our purchasing decisions on.

Brand perception, price, and previous experience of a product continue to dominate our reasons to buy, relegating our societal and environmental concerns to conversations on social media. While we are happy to like or retweet opinions that resonate with our desire for a better system of commerce, at Provenance, we believe technology can do more. Our concerns must translate to purchases.

Starting at the source

The origin of a product not only affects the quality or longevity of the product, but also the environments in which they are sourced, as well as the communities that catch, pick, sow, grow or rear them. Provenance traceability tools track physical goods securely from the origin, and through the supply chain, in a blockchain-backed format that can be accessed by consumers and producers alike.

A local fisherman gathers pole-and-line-caught skipjack tuna in Asilulu, Maluku.

How does it work? To test our prototype, we focused on the vast, complex South East Asian seafood industry, traveling to the shores where tuna fish begins its journey to our supermarket tuna cans. Indonesia is the largest tuna-producing country, with tuna fisheries a major source of employment and foreign exchange. The industry is, however, plagued by overfishing, human rights abuses, fraud, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which compromises the well-being of environments and communities.

Does purchasing a tuna can support these ills? What responsible options exist? Pole and line and handline fishing methods are recognised as more socially and environmentally sustainable, with a far lower risk of slavery and illegal fishing practices. Fair Trade-certified fisheries meet a set of rigorous, audited criteria that work to protect the fundamental human rights of fishermen, as well as the ecosystems impacted by the trade.

The Provenance Pilot

Our pilot ran from January to June 2016, tracking yellowfin and skipjack tuna fish from fisherman to export stage. We committed both Fairtraide and non-Fair Trade fish to the blockchain, recording their journey from fisherman to factory.

The provenance of tuna, backed by blockchain technology, and accessible to actors all along the supply chain.

Phase 1: the first mile

Working with a local NGO, we set up fishermen with keys on the blockchain, linked to their mobile number, key verified data and catch estimates. Local fishermen sent simple SMS messages to register their daily catches, issuing new assets on the blockchain and informing suppliers of them. These were then transferred from fisherman to supplier on sale, creating a digital history saved forever on the blockchain.

Phase 2: along the chain  

We linked with ERP systems, and other supply chain tools already digitising factory data, to check that what comes into a factory is what comes out. A smart contract handles the conversion factors from raw fish to finished product. No one along that supply chain can “double spend” the claims and certifications as  accounting for claims and certifications on a blockchain means all certifications and claims can be accounted for along with mass of product, without one company needing to have access to all of the certification and product data in the supply chain.

Phase 3: end consumer environments

The information gathered from origin and through the supply chain is accessible to shoppers towards the end of the chain. This technology allows brands and retailers to replace the clutter of traditional printed communication with mobile-accessible information about producers, suppliers and procedures undergone by the product.

Testing NFC-enabled smart stickers and our blockchain-backed item-tracking at a UK supermarket.

Our ambition is not to demonstrate yet another digital interface, but a solution to the grave need for data interoperability: for tracking items and claims securely, end-to-end, in a robust, accessible and trusted format.

Item tracking as a forward movement

Over a hundred years since tuna was first canned, we believe that improving a century-old product today requires looking beyond the label. Goods should only be considered “good” if they also positively impact environment and society.

We believe a commons “pay as you go” system like the blockchain - with the right frameworks and standards - can empower proactive tracking from origin, rather than reactive tracing after a scandal or issue. Sure, most suppliers don’t all know exactly where their raw materials come from - but with a network of apps built on an open, decentralised, yet secure system like a blockchain, data can be gathered and shared faster and more effectively than ever.

Our pilot tracked tuna forward from catch, and through the supply chain, but our aim is to see the provenance of products accessible to shoppers, on every rack and shelf. We live in the world we buy into. It’s time we stop taking backward steps with purchases that support degradation or inhumanity, and embrace a future of informed choices.

Thanks to the awesome people and organisations that helped us take the first step:

The team from Humanity United (including Mia Newman and Ed Marcum). The team from the International Pole and Line Foundation (including Martin Purves, Andrew Harvey, Alice Miller and John Burton). The team from AP2HI (including Heri Chin, Agus Budhiman, Kiki Anggraini and Laksmi Larastiti). The Team from Fair Trade USA (including Clay Brown and Ashley Apel). The team from hiSbe (Amy Anslow, Ruth Anslow and Jack Simmonds). PT Aneka Sumber Tata Bahari, PT Harta Samudra, PT Hatindo Makmur, PT Chen Woo, PT Nutrindo Fresfood International, PT Sinar Pure Foods, PT Samudra Mandiri Sentosa and PT Intimas Surya. Timothy Moore of USAID. Thomas Greco. Steve Childs. Consensys and the Uport team (Ruben De Bie, Joe Lubin, Hadrien Charlanes, Rouven Heck, Christian Lundkvist and Nicolas Bacca). Innovate UK. Momo Kochen. Stephanie Mangunsong. Neliana Fuenmayor, Rosa Koolhoven and Nicole Greene. The Provenance team (Afra, Jutta, Thibaut, Natalia, Harini, Lady, Stephanie, Luke and Ian). And everyone we interviewed and tested with in the field from the fishermen in Ambon to maritime experts in Cornwall.

Thank you all!
Jessi Baker


Faisal Chaudhuri

Content Strategist & Developer at Provenance

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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