The Story Behind the Tuna

Provenance recently spent two weeks with eight member companies of the Indonesian Association of Pole & Line and Hand-Line Fisheries, conducting research on traceability, sustainability and social standards, and exploring how we can help to enhance transparency and consumer recognition of these forward thinking companies. 

Over the past 6 months we have successfully piloted our traceability technologies within short, locally focussed supply chains in Europe. But production and trade is a global phenomenon that, on a daily basis, connects farmers, fishermen, retailers and consumers the world over. Supply chains have the power to shape the world, and drive improvements in development, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.

These are issues that we care deeply about at Provenance, and in collaboration with Humanity United, we have begun to explore how we can bring our digital tools to the developing world — starting with the fishing industry in Indonesia.

How much do you know about your tuna?

Indonesia catches more tuna in its waters than any other fishing nation. More than 60 million people live within Indonesia’s coastal communities, and tuna fisheries are a major source of employment and foreign exchange, as well as having a significant influence on the status of regional tuna stocks.

In the past tuna were caught using traditional, low impact techniques such as pole-and-line or hand-line fishing. Techniques that are highly skilled, with one man catching one fish at a time and creating a high quality end product. Techniques that are labour intensive, creating a large number of jobs within coastal communities. And techniques that are highly selective, with little-to-no bycatch or habitat impact.

These one-by-one tuna fisheries are typically ‘green-rated’ by NGOs, and form a core component of many major buyers’ sourcing commitments. But over the past decade rapid industrialization of parts of the fishery has seen an increase in larger automated vessels able to catch more tuna, but employing fewer and fewer people.

Fishermen in Bitung

Fishermen in Bitung

Eight Champions of Indonesia’s Sustainable Tuna Fisheries

During March we met with eight companies who are working to develop and promote Indonesia’s declining pole-and-line and hand-line fisheries. Several of these family-owned companies have been involved with the fishery for generations, and with this deep connection have seen many changes.

It was fascinating to meet the teams and visit the facilities of PT Samudra Mandiri Sentosa, PT Sinar Pure Foods, PT Chen Woo, PT Nutrindo Fresfood International, PT Intimas Surya, PT Hatindo Makmur, PT Harta Samudra and PT Aneka Sumber Tata Bahari.

We learnt about these companies’ personal motivations for sustainable fishing and production, and saw many different methods for traceability and data collection along the supply chain. Our interviews spanned all stakeholders: Fisherman, Boat Captains, Engineers, Quality Assurance experts, Suppliers, Supply Chain auditors of international retailers, Factory Workers, Managers and Company Owners – giving us a full picture of each company and the industry.

Most importantly we learned about the skill, care and attention to detail that goes into every hand-crafted one-by-one tuna product, and the challenges that these companies face differentiating their product in the market place. Despite strong demand for one-by-one tuna products in the international market, limited transportation and communication infrastructure in this part of the world make it difficult for buyers to differentiate one-by-one tuna products from products derived from other fisheries.

Bitung Fish market

Bitung Fish market

How can Provenance help Indonesia’s tuna fisherman and producers?

Businesses that embrace transparency present a lower risk to buyers, can increase sales or add a premium to their price as a result of increased consumer appeal, and can help raise the profile of their investment in sustainable practices.

The eight companies that we met in Indonesia are all champions of sustainable and ethical seafood. They are local employers and part of their local community. They are low impact, and actively pursuing ways to reduce waste and promote sustainable fishing practices. And they are credible, with many working towards international certifications such as Fair Trade and Marine Stewardship Council.

Provenance builds software to assist businesses such as this to become more transparent and to connect more closely with their downstream retailers and consumers. Our tools make it easy for business to share information in an accessible and elegant format, and for consumers to find out more about a producer’s impact on local communities and the environment, and their commitment to ethical practices.

Provenance exists to bring a new dimension to products, and to enable the story of a product’s people, places and raw materials to be part of the consumer selection process. We bolster the existing efforts and commitment of businesses, by providing consumers with more context and digital verification.

Provenance at point of sale in fish monger

Provenance at point of sale in fish monger in London

What Comes Next?

Following our visit we will be working with AP2HI and the International Pole and Line Foundation to gather feedback and to iterate tools. Together we will develop stories and key impact information about the tremendous voluntary efforts of the companies we met in Bali, Bitung and Ambon.

We anticipate sharing stories via partner websites and social media in the following ways:

  • Collaborative stories about competing companies working together to promote sustainable and ethical practices within the pole and line fisheries of Indonesia”
  • Product stories about the people and places that make your tuna”; and
  • Business stories about the actions and perspectives of people involved in the fishery e.g. “Moving towards zero waste” and “Meet the fisherman”

Armed with a plethora of new knowledge about the Indonesian tuna fishery, we are now keen to explore how our item level traceability tools can support this industry. Rather than introducing new systems and data collection requirements, we aim to investigate how we can best overlay or gather from existing efforts to establish a more open and secure chain of custody record for fish. We will be researching and exploring partnerships with existing systems and initiatives, including This Fish, USAID/OCEANS and Fair trade USA to avoid duplication of efforts and to support the quest for technology to bring sustainability and trust to the tuna products of Indonesia.

Bringing tuna transparency into the marketplace

A key component of Provenance is the consumer facing experience. As part of this project we will be seeking to trial many different ideas for how stories and traceability data can be represented at the point of sale. We will be developing, testing and iterating rapidly, and seeking feedback from AP2HI members, retailers and shoppers at every stage.

For more information on our pilot project in Indonesia, or if you would like to be involved or receive regular updates, please get in touch here.

Thanks to Andrew Harvey (IPNLF), Agus Budhiman (AP2HI), Laksmi Larastiti (AP2HI), Heri Chin (AP2HI) for their support in Indonesia.