Traceability: Why knowing your seafood’s story matters

Click here to download this seafood traceability infographic.

There is a lot of diversity in how a piece of fish travels from a fisherman’s boat to your dinner table. While some fish enjoy a short and sweet trip, others undertake a lengthy, multi-stop journey before reaching their final destination. Having access to and confidence in a seafood product’s itinerary is what traceability is all about, and there are good reasons to take note and perk up when discussing the travels of a fish.

Reason #1: Quality

The length and complexity of a fish’s journey, as well as how it’s handled along the way tells you a lot about its quality. For fresh seafood, knowing where and when your fish was caught is key. Like humans, fish that take a shorter journey with fewer pit stops will maintain freshness a lot better than fish that take a longer journey with many layovers. For frozen seafood, knowing where your seafood came from and how it was caught or handled (such as frozen-at-sea, or once-frozen versus twice-frozen) is more important in gauging your future meal’s flavor and nutrition; the quicker a fish is frozen, and the less time it spends thawed, the more the flavors and nutrients stay locked in.

Reason #2: Confidence

Fraud is a rampant problem in the seafood industry. Estimates of mislabeling in the U.S. seafood supply range from 20% to upwards of 50%.  Traceable products address this concern by tracking who handles the product and how it is treated at each step of the supply chain. Not only is this important for quality, but if you care about eating sustainable seafood, traceability can ensure that the fish you purchase is coming from a true sustainable fishery and not somewhere else. If your fish is traceable, you can feel confident that you are getting the species and quality of seafood you paid for.

Reason #3: Health

Safety concerns about seafood generally arise around three issues: mishandling of products, exposure to environmental pollution, and chemical additives. Traceability alleviates these three concerns by:

-  Ensuring a transparent supply chain, which allows retailers to recall bad product and hold suppliers and processors accountable.

- Supplying information about where your food was caught, how it was caught, freshness dates, and what species it is so you can decide if it’s safe to eat.

- Tracking if chemicals were added and, if so, which ones, so you can decide what you are comfortable consuming. Chemicals are often added to wild-caught fish to preserve their appearance and taste, and are also used extensively by fish farms to prevent disease.

Reason #4: Connection

Being able to know where your fish was caught or raised, learn about who caught it, and to stare at your fisherman’s photo and say, “Ha! It was you,” is kind of darn exciting. Just try it.

The bottom line:

Traceability tracks the story behind your seafood, which reveals much about its quality, identity, and associated health risks. Traceability also gives you confidence in the contents of a label and creates a connection to your food that makes your sea fare that much more exciting.

FACT OR FISHY

We've had so many questions about finding sustainable seafood that we've decided to share our knowledge! Below are some of the FAQs about traceability.

1. Is the main difference between traceable and regular seafood just that I know where it was caught?

FISHY

Traceable seafood is tracked at every step of its journey from boat deck to grocery store so you can feel confident that what you’re buying is what it says it is and at the level of quality that you are paying for.

2. Is traceable seafood a safer choice?

FACT

If it is traceable, you can trust that the product is what it says it is - and that is always a safer choice. Different species of fish vary in everything from allergens to mercury concentrations (e.g., skipjack tuna has moderate mercury concentrations: 0.09–0.29 parts per million vs. yellowfin tuna with higher mercury concentrations: 0.3–0.49 parts per million), and different supply chains vary in everything from chemical additives to human rights concerns. Always ask where your seafood comes from. 

3. Is sustainable seafood always traceable and traceable seafood always sustainable?

FACT and FISHY

Sustainable seafood needs to be traceable or else there is no way of proving that the product being sold was harvested sustainably. But traceable seafood doesn’t have to be sustainable– just track-able from catch to consumption. When looking for sustainable seafood, check for sustainability information or ratings such as Seafood Watch and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), or check the back of your Salty Girl Seafood package!

Some good reads:

Seafood Mislabeling

Mislabeled Shrimp Fraud

The Use and Abuse of Polyphosphates

White paper on Traceability in the Seafood Industry by FishWise