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a thesis prelude

somewhere between a manifesto and an introduction

Published onNov 07, 2019
a thesis prelude

Seafood supply chains are a complex, and because of that complexity - they are opaque. I set out in February to engineer a solution that enhances transparency in seafood supply chains, maybe using blockchain technology. After diving into the sustainable seafood sector from a traceability technology perspective over the past seven months, these are the gathered meta-insights:

1) The obvious: seafood is a pen-and-paper industry. Logbooks are still analog, and going digital takes investment and supply chain-wide economic incentives.

2) In seafood, we need to stamp the motto: “Don’t trust, verify” into our foreheads. One thing I’ve learned from Bitcoin, the behemoth peer to peer payment network, is that “trustless payments” can only happen when cryptography and math automatically verify truth. In seafood, we’ve yet to bake this reflex when designing systems where one can “verify, not trust” the technology. However, it is coming: on-vessel electronic monitoring for processing data on-board and DNA sequencing of catch at origin and at destination are examples of technology that is very much in development today.

3) In the second point, I make a case that verification methods must be embedded into the design of future traceability technology. However, we’re just not there yet. Until we have technology that does that for us, we must “gather” the sources of truths (e.g. databases) and create tools that help us make verifiably informed decisions.

4) Blockchain-for-supply-chains has infatuated many sectors in the past semi-decade, and seafood is no exception. The drivers for using blockchain range from promises of “increased consumer confidence” to “fraud-resistant data storage”. All promises on a spectrum that has potential to deliver. However, every supply chain needs to determine one’s KDEs - key data elements - and KDEs for distributed ledgers are no exception. Defining KDEs has become an audience question - who is looking at this ledger?

My brief foray into seafood brings intuition that:

  • Regulating bodies will want to see KDEs for auditing and certification

  • A certification-bestowing NGO may do the same as above

  • A retailer or brand will want to see KDEs for risk assessment and marketing material

  • A consumer has 8s in the grocery store isle to decide if dinner will be turkey, tuna or an Impossible burger. I’ve still not seen convincing evidence that scanning a QR code and recognizing that blockchain-powers the backend of the traceability technology is going to be what drives the consumer’s purchase, but perhaps this is where marketing potential plays a part.

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