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Can Technology End Overfishing?

Back in 2002, Thomas Kraft, managing director of Norpac Fisheries Export, came up with the idea to electronically track each fish the company captures and sells. Soon after Norpac's electronic monitoring system was up and running two years later, Kraft realized that the technology was not only an effective management tool, but it could also help the company trace fish through the supply chain and guarantee its products were not caught using illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices.

In fact, the nonprofit Future of Fish identifies tracing fish through the supply chain as one of the best ways to curb overfishing — one of the greatest threats to our oceans, where 85 percent of global fish stocks are fully or over-exploited, according to the organization. And now companies like Norpac are turning to technology to make fish traceability more efficient and accurate.

At Norpac, fish are monitored from the time the ship hits the dock, Kraft says. While offloading their boats, fishermen tag each fish with a barcode and record pertinent information about their catch, including vessel information, species, weight, and time and location of the catch. Some of Norpac's boats are equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags; fishermen on these ships wrap a Velcro strap with a RFID chip around each fish's tail. The company's RFID reader is then tied to a vessel monitoring system, allowing the company to validate, within a few hours of capture, that fish were caught in legal fishing areas, Kraft says. When a boat lands, government observers make a note of each fish caught and compare their records against the vessel's log books, further verifying the ship's catch.

As fish move into the processing stage and are broken into their component parts, processors issue barcodes for each part of the fish and connect the new codes back to the original barcode. For example, each of the four loins of a tuna will have a separate barcode, Kraft explains.

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