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Differentiating responsibly-caught fish product in Costa Rica through end-to-end digital traceability along responsible artisanal fishing value chains

Unsustainable use of marine resources threatens Costa Rica´s coast. Weakening fisheries affect the overall balance of marine ecosystems, food security, tourism, commerce, and vulnerable livelihoods of impoverished coastal populations. Informed market niches demonstrate increasing preference for responsible marine product and willingness to encourage marine sustainability initiatives. 

Costa Rica´s Pacific coast is home to about 15,000 artisanal fishing families, challenged by extreme poverty and lack of alternative productive activities. Most of these families are highly dependent on depleting marine resources in the Gulf of Nicoya due to overfishing and unsustainable exploitation. 

MarViva Foundation (MarViva) has worked with local artisanal fisher groups in the Gulf of Nicoya since 2010. Work has focused on building their commitment to responsible fishing practices, and protection and sustainability of marine resources that sustain their livelihoods and key natural heritage. Responsible fishing practices include compliance with: selective fishing gear, respecting fishing grounds, minimum catch size, and targeting non-vulnerable species. 

MarViva, with support from the National Geographic Expeditions Program, has engaged small scale receiving centers and corporate buyers in the creation and consolidation of responsible fishing value chains. The value chains once created encouraged the use of environmentally sound practices and improved livelihoods for the artisanal sector, since 2014. Value chains also provide information to buyers given them the power to drive the demand of marine fish and to reward the responsible fishers through technical and economic incentives.

Another critical player in the commercialization process is the end consumer, whose buying decisions depend on the product information available at the points of sale. To inform consumers, MarViva developed the “Standard of Environmental Responsibility for the Commercialization of Marine Fish” (The Standard). The Standard certifies restaurants and supermarkets whose purchasing policies ensure the fish supplier´s compliance with responsible fishing practices and support improved business conditions for the artisanal fisher groups. 

However, verifying compliance with the responsible fishing criteria is key in the process. Detailed information describing the catch needs to be verifiable throughout the supply chain, from landing site to point of sale. 

The current method of traceability is paper-based. This method is significantly time consuming and error prone. The information is transcribed through different forms, several times throughout the distribution chain. Finally, the data reaches a digital form for analysis and effective information flow from the receiving center to the processing/distribution plants and then to the corporate buyers that serve the end consumer. 

Starting in May 2016, MarViva, with backing from National Geographic Expeditions, implemented the project “Differentiating responsibly-caught fish product in Costa Rica through end-to-end digital traceability along responsible artisanal fishing value chains”.The project sought to implement a digital traceability system with artisanal fisher groups and collaborated with corporate buyers, enabling the end consumer´s access to evidence of the product´s authenticity and compliance with environmentally responsible practices.

Results

MarViva facilitated work sessions with three receiving centers in Costa de Pajaros in the Gulf of Nicoya during the first three months. The work sessions helped identify improvement opportunities to enhance the fish product traceability. Stakeholders along the supply chain (artisanal fishers, receiving centers, processing plants and super markets) participated and gave MarViva feedback to help develop a software application for both advanced and novice users. The application allows users (receiving center, processing plants, and corporate buyers) to manage information automatically. For example, frequency charts of landing size per species, landing size by fishing gear, volume landed by species, volume caught by type of fishing gear, and volume sold monthly. 

Following the work sessions, training sessions took place. Forty staff members from three receiving centers, processing plants and point of sale participated in the training sessions. Species identification, responsible fisheries, and need for traceability along the responsible fishing value chain were the topics covered. Staff that participated in training were multipliers, as they later proceed to train staff at their respective work centers. 

Historical data from seven collaborating partners was migrated from independent spreadsheets to the traceability program. MarViva analyzed and curated the data to ensure the fidelity of the database in the program. This lead to over 134,000 kg of artisanal product traced and sourced from May 2016 to September 2017 by conscientious corporate buyers engaged in responsible fishing value chains

Although the project has ended (October 2017), collaborating artisanal fishers, receiving centers, and corporate buyers continue to update the traceability database on a daily basis. The continued application of the traceability program registers species identification, size, gear used, and fishing grounds on a daily basis. This is currently totaling about 8,500 kg per month of traced fish product.

MarViva will continue to promote the use of the traceability program indefinitely and promote the growth of responsible market chains by incorporating more collaborators in the near future.

 

 

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