Norwegian seafood companies form industry-wide blockchain collaboration

Published on
June 25, 2020

The Norwegian Seafood Association and IBM on Thursday, 25 June, announced a new, industry-wide collaboration that aims to use blockchain technology to provide traceability throughout the country’s seafood sector.

The new network – which features several seafood companies including Kvarøy Arctic, which announced a move to blockchain back in April, and BioMar – uses “IBM Blockchain Transparent Supply,” which utilizes the underlying technology behind IBM’s Food Trust. In addition to IBM and the Norwegian Seafood Association, Atea, one of the largest providers of IT services and infrastructure solutions in the Nordic and Baltic regions, is joining the collaboration.

“The relationship to Atea, that’s key here,” Espen Braathe, IBM’s Food Trust Europe lead, told SeafoodSource. “They’ve been a good IBM partner for a number of years. They are in the mode of always looking for new things and looking at innovation, what will be the next big thing.”

Atea, Braathe said, will help bridge the gap between the seafood industry and the blockchain network, thanks to the company’s extensive experience offering IT solutions to companies throughout Europe.

The core goal behind the industry-wide collaboration, according to Kvarøy Arctic CEO Alf-Gøran Knutsen, is allowing customers to have full transparency from the beginning to the end of the supply chain.

“It is important for our customers to know that the seafood they eat is not only safe but produced in a sustainable and healthy manner,” he said in a release announcing the new collaboration. “Blockchain lets us share the fish's journey from the ocean to the dinner table. This is now more timely than ever, as consumers want more information about where the food they eat comes from.”  

Norway’s salmon industry has been focusing on sustainability efforts for years, but consumers don’t always understand that the industry has changed massively in the last few decades.

“Some of the old myths are still prevalent,” Braathe said. “The key driver here is actually transparency, they really want to show the world their practices.”

While some myths are old, other issues are still prevalent. Mislabeling of seafood in New York has been serious enough that the state’s Attorney General’s office said it may take action against some supermarket chains. An Oceana study, released in 2019, also indicated that as high as one in five pieces of seafood in the U.S. is mislabeled.

“Norwegian seafood is known for its quality,” Norwegian Seafood Association CEO Robert Eriksson said. “At the same time, we still do not have the ability to trace where the fish came from, how it was grown or how it was stored. This creates the potential for fraud and food waste.”

Norway joining blockchain-based traceability could eliminate those mislabeling fears by providing a solid guarantee that the fish consumers are buying is from where it says it is from. Companies trying to mislabel something as seafood from Norway will have greater difficulty if all seafood from Norway has a clear, traceable link back to its source.  

IBM’s blockchain technology will allow the industry to create a digital link from the beginning to the end of the supply chain, giving customers a look at the kinds of sustainability efforts the companies make, and eliminating the potential for fraud.

“Blockchain can help eliminate these problems with a transparent, accountable record of where each fish came from,” Eriksson said. “We believe that this is only the start of something that will mean a great deal for the industry by creating more sustainable food production, which in turn will increase the return for producers."

A survey, performed by IBM, has indicated that at least 71 percent of consumers care about traceability, and that they are willing to pay more for brands that provide it. The new blockchain-based network, according to a press release, will allow customers to know which fjord a fish is from, what a fish has eaten, and what sustainability methods the facility will use.

Customs officials, as well, will be able to easily access data about the volume and location of shipments in order to expedite customs clearance.

“By sharing all this information seamlessly, seafood producers who invest in quality will also be able to charge a premium, increasing pay for the people who catch your fish,” the release states.

A key point, according to Braathe, is that all data accumulated by the system will not simply be available for all to see, and that the companies in question will have complete control over it.

“You wouldn’t want to offload all your data onto some network, if you don’t know who gets to see that data,” Braathe said. “That’s, I think, an extremely important point when we design these networks.”

The industry, Braathe said, will be in charge of how the data is utilized.

“We’re not in the position to dictate what you can and cannot see," he said. "That’s for the industry to decide."

How the Norwegian Seafood Association implements the data, and how it allows consumers to access it, will be up to the individual companies involved in the initiative.

“The information you get there is controlled by the brand owner,” Braathe said. “Communication with consumers is extremely important and very very powerful, and key to the strategy moving forward.”

The use of blockchain has been growing in the seafood industry, with a number of different companies proposing a variety of different traceability solutions based on its use. Braathe said he hopes that as more companies begin using blockchain, a global standard is created to make sure all the various traceability programs can link up.

“No one can expect everyone to adopt the same technology,” Braathe said. “Our goal here is global traceability. The more networks we can connect, and work together, the better, in my opinion.”

He added that the hope is that Norway’s network will demonstrate the benefits of blockchain traceability in the seafood industry, encouraging others to get involved.

“We want to bring on as many actors as possible, and of course expand it into other industries as well,” Braathe said. “I’m excited about it, and we’ve only just started. I think it has huge potential.”  

Photo courtesy of IBM

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