The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability is preparing for the next steps of the organization as it readies for a period of transition and growth under the direction of its new executive director, Greg Brown.
Brown took the role in January 2022, and is serving as GDST’s inaugural executive director. He has joined the organization at a time when a growing chorus of companies are pushing for greater traceability in the seafood industry, and as GDST is working to solidify its institutional base.
The first order of business, Brown told SeafoodSource, is to ensure the organization continues to build on the work it has already accomplished.
“The focus has to be, ‘How do we build from right where we are, to continue the good work that’s happened over four-and-a-half, almost five years, to a whole knew dimension?’” Brown said.
The main mission, he said, is to drive uptake of the GDST standards to a global scale, delivering meaningful benefits for the seafood industry. The GDST has its roots in a 2013 World Economic Forum call for action, which led to an Expert Panel on Legal and Traceable Wild Fish Products convened by WWF, which eventually developed a framework leading to the establishment of GDST.
“The GDST standards produced by the original dialogue are already starting to deliver tangible progress,” Brown said. “Now it’s time to achieve measurable results and build the tangible tools that can propel adoption across all of the broad dimensions of our industry. That’s really the mandate that’s present here and now.”
GDST has already unveiled some of the work it has done with that mandate in mind. The organization unveiled its first ever set of basic technical standards, GDST 1.0, in 2020. GDST 1.0 is intended to serve as a set of basic technical standards that will allow a seafood company of any size to move toward traceability in a way that allows for interoperability across seafood traceability platforms. The core goal is to make traceability more reliable and more affordable for companies throughout the seafood supply chain.
The standard is intended to form a foundation for traceability within companies that is essentially technology agnostic, which allows for future-proofing traceability efforts, Brown said.
“The point is all technologies can write to our standard and become interoperable without fundamentally changing the nature of the technology,” Brown said.
The core philosophy behind the standard is that it’s a set of guidelines that will serve as a roadmap to interoperable traceability throughout the seafood supply chain, that can then be built upon to meet the needs of the company in question.
The interoperable nature of the standard is beneficial not just from a traceability standpoint, but from a return-on-investment one as well. Companies writing new technological solutions to traceability – be it through blockchain or some other form of full-chain traceability – need not worry that the tech they’re developing will be obsolete so long as it adheres to the guidelines in the GDST standard, Brown said.
“If you know you're going to achieve interoperability, you know that whatever technology you're developing today is going to continue to communicate tomorrow,” Brown said. “I think one reason so many tech vendors have rushed to build to the GDST standard is because they see that if they build to the standard today, they’ll grow their potential customer base and still be marketable tomorrow.”
Being interoperable is one reason to adhere to GDST standards, but a more basic motivation for companies to adhere to the standards, Brown said, is the nature of how traceability can help other aspects of the industry.
“GDST can help reduce the burden of meeting import and export reporting requirements,” Brown said. “Then, beyond that, you have food-safety documentation, which of course traceability facilitates.”
GDST was founded partially due to mountain concern over illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the seafood supply chain – a concern that now dovetails with growing industry attention to eliminating forced labor from seafood production. The GDST standards align with the implementation of the most-important international treaty against IUU fishing – the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), adopted in 2009 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and ratified in 2016. The agreement creates a system for dockside inspections and methods – including blocking all port entry – for preventing seafood sourced via IUU from entering the supply chain.
In 2021, more than 150 seafood companies working through platforms such as the Global Tuna Alliance, GSSI, and SeaBOS issued a call to action that identified GDST and PSMA implementation as the top two priorities in the fight against illegal fishing.
“You’ve got really strong, basic regulatory drivers,” Brown said. “We know that in the U.S. because we’re dealing with [the Seafood Import Monitoring Program], we’re dealing with other efforts, which of course good traceability enables.”
The transparency enabled by the GDST standards helps to ensure seafood is sourced from companies with fair labor practices and from sources that follow environmentally sound principles, Brown said. Another core value of the standard is that all companies, large and small, should be able to adhere to them. GDST’s steering committee is made up of individuals from companies of all sizes.
“The steering committee, which is there to guide us and support us in our journey, has an association of small fishers on it,” Brown said. “The actual implementation that is taking place is demonstrating that the small-scale and the large-scale can work together.”
Currently, Brown said, the industry is at a “crossroads,” where traceability technology is finally starting to catch up to the demands of the seafood industry’s often complex supply chain.
“It’s not so much that the tech didn’t exist before. It’s that the applicability, the practicality, of it is finally tangible and palatable,” Brown said. “Standards for ensuring interoperability are a key part of ensuring that practicality today.”
The GDST is a product of the seafood industry's larger effort to drive positive change and lead the way on traceability and sustainability, Brown said.
“It’s been happening for a long time,” Brown said. “GDST is not the pioneer of it. GDST is the manifestation of it.”
In the shorter-term, GDST is planning to unveil the first technical update of its standards (GDST 1.1) at the 2022 Seafood Expo North America, running from 13 to 15 March in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and has further news planned for Seafood Expo Global, running from 26 to 28 April in Barcelona, Spain. In addition to the 1.1 standards, Brown also hinted that new tools and services will be unveiled at the expos.
In addition, Brown will make his first public appearance as the new GDST executive director when he moderates a panel at SENA – “The GDST and the ‘new normal’ for seafood traceability” – which will include an update and new announcements.
Photo courtesy of the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability