Tracing shrimp to the source using blockchain


It all begins with a buzz in the fingertips. In the warm waters off the coast of Sinaloa, Mexico, fishermen in small, nimble boats called pangas drop skirt-shaped nets, or suriperas, off the side and hold the ends, waiting for the telltale vibration of the rope that signals shrimp.

Shrimp – and not dolphins, marine turtles, birds or other fish and marine species. Many commercial fishing operations can sweep up non-target species like these as bycatch, but with suriperas, bycatch is extremely low – less than 2%. This is an impressive figure considering the global average of bycatch is 10.8%, and in the worst cases, for every pound of shrimp caught, up to six pounds of unwanted bycatch is also caught.

These unintended repercussions of what we eat can make us think twice when reaching into the supermarket freezer for a package of peeled, cooked shrimp. And as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, food safety and the ability to prove the provenance of your food and trace its path in a complex supply chain is more important than ever. With a complex and stubbornly opaque global supply chain, how can we be sure of the source of the food we’re consuming, let alone trust that shrimp is harvested in an environmentally sustainable manner or that workers along the supply chain are being treated fairly?  

Two thousand miles north of Sinaloa in New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon, with a click of their smartphones, shoppers can scan a QR code at the seafood counter and learn about the journey their seafood takes. These insights are powered by Mastercard Provenance Solution, which uses blockchain to deliver a clear record of traceability through any supply chain, regardless of industry, and Envisible’s Wholechain system, which enables supply-chain visibility specifically in food systems.

"Since we opened our doors 20 years ago, New Seasons Market has been incredibly transparent about our seafood offerings,” says Daisy Berg, seafood program and category manager. “Our customers have grown accustomed to the high level of detail we provide and that has built trust. With Mastercard and Wholechain, we feel this is the right step forward in always improving transparency for our customers. While not every customer is looking for that level of detail, the trust comes from them knowing that we will be able to answer any question they have about their seafood."

New Seasons Market isn’t the only supermarket in the United States to offer consumers complete producer-to-retail supply chain traceability through the Envisible and Mastercard partnership. In October, TopCo Associates LLC, a leading food cooperative, announced that they are helping their member grocery chains, starting with Food City, use this technology to provide a better line of sight into ethical sourcing and environmental compliance of the salmon, cod and shrimp at their seafood counters and in their freezer aisles.

Along with New Seasons, Envisible is working with Fair Trade USA — which certifies goods grown and harvested according to rigorous social, environmental and economic criteria — to provide the data to back those claims. In this case, it’s a commitment to support sustainable livelihoods for fishing families and safe working conditions, among other benefits, while not placing a heavy technological demand on the fishermen or the fishing co-op. This commitment to support sustainable livelihoods is now even more important because Fair Trade communities will be hit hard by the economic downturn resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the fishermen return to shore, their shrimp is weighed at the co-op where catch details are logged on a mobile device using an individualized QR code for each fisherman. At the processing facility run by Fair Trade Certified producer Del Pacifico Seafoods, the shrimp are organized by lot number and labeled, then deep frozen to seal in freshness. The details are captured in Wholechain’s desktop web app, enabling streamlined documentation and showing the chain of custody through the connection of records from the processor to the Los Angeles distributor to the Portland warehouse to the supermarket. This process creates transparency and instills trust in the supply chain. 

It's not just the suripera nets that make this shrimp among the most sustainable in the world. It’s the technique that harnesses winds and the tides to guide fishermen to their catch, resulting in the lowest fuel consumption per pound of shrimp in the world, and offering peace of mind to people concerned about the impact of the food they eat. Because of Del Pacifico’s commitment to fair trade and traceability back to each fisherman, consumers can also be confident that those who harvest their food have been fairly treated, and their purchases contribute to critical, additional funds to help fishing communities navigate the COVID crisis.

It takes deep collaboration and an innate understanding of how the ecosystem operates to make it work better for everyone – whether it’s catching shrimp off the coast of Mexico or capturing the 2,000-mile journey to your dinner plate.

"At Fair Trade USA our ultimate objective is to ensure that producers are fairly treated and fairly compensated for their hard work in harvesting the food and other products we all consume. Wholechain, in partnership with the Mastercard Provenance solution, helps us to efficiently achieve this objective by making transactional data throughout a supply chain more accessible and reliable."


Ken Moore, Head of Mastercard Labs, and Mark Kaplan, Partner at Envisible, share their insights on how blockchain technology can provide end-to-end visibility in the food supply chain during their presentation “Building Trust in Supply Chains with Blockchain” at PSFK’s World Retail Innovation Week on April 2.