Rontec Logo


Traceability in the Fishing Industry

Article by Gordon C Norman of Nesco Weighing Limited first published in Fish News International.

Why is everyone talking about Traceability?

The Fishing Industry is the last major food source that cannot in the majority of cases tell the consumer about the
product it is selling.

With the food scares involving meat, B.S.E., and foot and mouth, and the uncertainty about basic commodities
such as drinking water and G.M. Food, the rest of the Food Industry has in the main put its house in order.
Notwithstanding that improvements can still be made in the meat sector, the Fish Industry has
a long way to go.

Why should we bother with Traceability?

The media love to hype up food processing scares and processors in the Fish Industry are no exception.
The stories that keep resurfacing about fish farms and the safety of aquaculture reared fish including the
medications given to the products during the farming process, put doubts in the minds of consumers about the
safety of eating farmed fish. Rumours of fish being caught in waters contaminated by radioactivity and
toxic chemicals and entering the human food chain have been appearing in several publications and have
been latched onto by pressure groups which each have their own agendas. All of this does nothing but harm
to the industry. It will take only one big food scare story, whether it be true or not, to damage the
Fish Industry nationally and internationally and affect the Industry's viability and profitability, potentially
putting the livelihood of many thousands at risk.

What progress has been made?

Although some forms of traceability have been put in place by parts of the industry for some time, there has
never previously existed a process by which information has been made accessible throughout the supply and
processing chain. The E.U. therefore have decided that as from January 1st 2005 all fish products sold within
the E.U. will be subject to appropriate traceability. The U.S.A. Food and Drug Administration is also looking
to enact similar legislation in the U.S. in the near future.

In order for the European Fish Industry to comply with this legal requirement, in 2000 the E.U. funded a project
called "The Traceability of Fish Products Concerted Action Project", known by those taking part as,
"TraceFish". The Norwegian Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture co-ordinated the project, which ran
for three long but busy years.

The project brought together organisations, companies, and individuals from throughout the E.U. And Europe
in general to form working parties to look at different areas of the industry to put together workable proposals
that would be looked at during larger conferences held at regular periods throughout the project.
The three groups were:

The method of operation was that the captured and farmed fish groups looked at the supply chains and then
passed on their observation of the links involved to the technical group, who then put together proposals as
to how these links could be co-ordinated using modern technology. The technical group formed a sub group
called the Technical Consortium that met at regular periods throughout the three years to plan and propose
solutions to meet the other groups' requirements.

Nesco Weighing Limited was the only weighing system company to sit on the Technical Consortium, the other
members mainly consisting of computer and software companies together with a small group of fish technologists.

From the beginning Nesco was able to bring a practical approach to the proceedings having been involved
with the Fishing Industry for over thirty years.

The early proposals involved housewives having the facility to take a pack of fish and accessing its history via the
Web but this was soon rejected by the more commercially minded members of the consortium. After three very hard
years the final standards were presented at a conference in November 2002 and ratified by the project members for
acceptance by the E.U. as an appropriate basis for the delivery of full chain traceability.

What did Tracefish produce and how can it be used?

Tracefish produced three standards that were developed for use by the industry. They are not the only way of
achieving full chain traceability, but they are the only ones accepted by C.E.N. And E.A.N.

The standards lay down where, what and how data should be recorded in the farmed and wild caught fish chain for
full chain traceability. They also identify how modern electronics and software can be used to transmit data through
the chain and the standards to be used to successfully obtain the data if and when required.

These standards are formatted on a pull system, rather than a push system basis. This means that only the
minimum amount of necessary data is pushed along the chain

The majority of data is held at the individual point of action, whether that be a boat, auction, transport company,
or processor. The only data pushed forward is the information required for labeling purposes or for commercial use
by users further down the chain. All commercially sensitive information is held at the point of action and is
accessible only by those parties who have authority to do so, e.g. food standards agencies.

The standards are based on a Global Trading Identification Number (GTIN), plus a batch number. The GTIN is
unique, the first part is issued by the EAN (ID. of supplier) and the second part is allocated by the supplier
(ID of product), The batch can be as big or as small as the organisation deems fit, or as much as they are
prepared to risk having to destroy should the product be recalled.
Full details of the standards can be obtained from Nesco or the TraceFish organisation.

What has NESCO done about Traceability?

Throughout the three year project Nesco contributed to the Technical Consortium and Technical Work Group,
whilst it put in place a project for the development of innovative weighing, data input and software systems
inline with the "TraceFish" standards. The result of that project was Nesco's "Traceway" Integrated
Traceability System which contains all the necessary building blocks to provide full chain traceability
throughout the whole of the supply chain. "Traceway" is not just a piece of hardware nor a software package,
but an amalgam of both, creating an integrated traceability system compliant with the E.U. standard,
but also designed for the individual application and the customers specific requirements. "Traceway" is a
collection of building blocks, put together and configured for an individual process be it on board, at an
auction, during transportation, or processing, at the fish farm, or during packaging for the retailer or end user.

The whole idea behind the "Traceway" System is to keep the process as simple as possible so as to enable
the information to be accessed as easily as possible, as and when required and for the component parts to be compatible throughout the whole chain of supply.

So what is in it for the Industry?

In a nutshell, profit and substantial sales. If an organisation has the foresight to install a"Traceway" System,
this is a tangible saleable benefit to their customers. The customer will feel confident about the source and
quality of the product they are buying and that can be passed on to the consumer who can be encouraged
to pay a premium for the product in the knowledge that the quality is the best available.

The reverse scenario is that should there be a food scare concerning fish and traceability is not in place,
not only could the recall costs be crippling to your business, but the effect on ongoing business and
loss of customer confidence could be catastrophic for both you and for the Industry in general.


The "TraceFish" Project was established to ensure the industry had available a simple, integrated and
practical system of traceability using the best technology. It was conceived to ensure that the
Fish Industry did not find itself in the same kind of mess that engulfed the meat industry,
which lead to loss of sales and customer confidence. Even now the meat industry does not have anything as
comprehensive as the "TraceFish" Standards in place although we believe they are looking to follow our lead
to adopt a similar system. Finally, the standards are there to help not to hinder.
If we don't adopt them we run the risk of damaging our Industry irreparably.

Gordon C Norman, Technical Sales Director, Nesco Weighing Limited ©                             30/10/2003