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Blockchain goes to fight illegal fishing and slavery!


Fishing industry is plagued by illegal fishing, over-exploitation of stocks, and slavery in several parts of the world. World Wildlife Fund is spearheading a blockchain project that will soon change that.

The Tuna you bought from the supermarket may have been produced from illegal fishing. It may have been result of over-exploitation of stocks that would put further strain on the already scarce development budget of a small developing coastal nation. Worse still, slave labor may have been used for this catch. Appalling, isn't it? Sadly, it's the truth in many parts of the world as far as the fishing industry is concerned. Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing affects the coastal states, many of whom are developing countries, and has over-dependence on the income from fishing in their waters. Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing invariably results into over-exploitation of the stocks, which is far from sustainable, and results into speedy depletion of a key resource of these developing countries. Slavery and inhuman working conditions further exploit the disadvantaged local communities. The Pacific Islands nations are one among the many regions facing this widespread crisis, and Tuna fishing is one of the worst-affected segments.

If the fishing industry can be made transparent, then today's aware and conscientious consumers will immediately know whether the fish they buy is produced unethically. As we have seen in many cases, as a result of democratization of information, aware and conscientious consumers have forced businesses and governments to adopt ethical and sustainable business and governance practices in many instances. This can happen in the Tuna industry, and the overall fishing industry, as well. If information about the fishing companies, their licenses, reporting of their catch, any possible over-exploitation of stocks, or working condition of the labor force can be made easily available, then the serious pressure from consumers will play a big part in reforming the industry. There have been earlier efforts to bring in such transparency, through paper-based and web-based systems. However, too many middlemen operate at multiple levels of this industry, and tamper-proof information has been hard to come by.

World Wildlife Fund leads blockchain project to transform Tuna industry in the Pacific Islands:

The World Wide Fund for Nature, widely known as World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the leading conservation-focused non-governmental organization (NGO) in the world, is leading a blockchain project to transform the Tuna industry in the Pacific Islands region. WWF's Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji offices are working with the following partners in this project:

  1. Brooklyn, New York, USA-based blockchain technology company ConsenSys,
  2. Suva, Fiji-based Information and Communications technology (ICT) company TraSeable;
  3. Suva, Fiji-based fishing company Sea Quest.

Blockchain technology can eliminate middlemen from the system, and is highly secured. Blockchain is essentially a distributed database, where each computer in the network, also called 'node', has the latest and complete information that the entire blockchain has. There is no central server, and the system isn't dependent on one central server being operational. Updating blockchain doesn't have to be routed through any central point of authority, every node is equal point of authority. This basic design premise eliminates middlemen. Coming to the point of security, essentially blockchain eliminates incentives to hack the system. No existing block record can be deleted or modified, only way in which a blockchain can be updated is by adding a new block. A combination of specially designed hardware, powerful software, and their user is called a “Miner”, a term which you may have heard in the context of Bitcoin. Miners try to add new blocks into the blockchain, for the reward they are supposed to get, and it is an intensely competitive environment. To add a new block, a miner has to essentially complete massive number-crunching operations at high speed, in this competitive environment, to solve a cryptographic puzzle. Only when the miner produces evidence of significant number-crunching work, in the form of something called 'proof of work' (POW), which may, for e.g. contain the reference to the last recorded block, the consensus mechanism of blockchain allows the miner to add new block. Such a complex process makes hacking blockchain economically non-viable. Elimination of middlemen, and immutable permanent records with complete audit-trail - these two factors make blockchain the best-suited technology for the ambitious project WWF has undertaken.


The solution devised by WWF and partners is the following:

  1. After a catch is loaded on the ship, each fish is assigned a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tag, and entered as an unique record into the blockchain-powered system.
  2. From that point onward, every process step, i.e. transportation into processing unit, processing, packaging, distribution to fish merchant etc, is tracked and recorded into the blockchain.
  3. A consumer can scan the tag on the tuna package in the store, and a smartphone app will reveal to her the entire details of how the fish was caught, transported, processed and distributed, i.e. the entire life-cycle. The information will be obtained from blockchain.

The project has already progressed significantly, and Sea Quest is already recording their catch in blockchain. The project team is looking for a fish merchant to join the team so that testing for the last leg can be completed.

The project team has impressive credentials, as following:

  • WWF brings decades worth of conservation expertise into the project;
  • ConsenSys has significant blockchain development expertise;
  • Local companies TraSeable, the ICT partner, and Sea Quest, the fishing company, have wide experience in the local market as well as their industry verticals.

The project team feels very positive about the project, and is excited that the powerful blockchain technology will finally end the illegal fishing and slavery in the regional Tuna industry. As conscientious consumers, that's something we surely look forward to.

This article was originally published on @anujit4blockchain