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Where does the fish come from?

by Ellen Hardy
07 December 2007, at 12:00am

NORWAY - How has it been handled before it arrived at the shop? Work is now underway so the fish's history can be traced from the seafood counter back to the boat.

You will soon be able to receive more information about the fish fillet you are buying.

As consumers, we want information about the products we buy or, at the very least, to know that it is possible to find out how it has been processed.

To achieve this, product information must be forwarded between all the companies from the catch via processors and wholesalers until it is finally on the shop shelf. This information must be made available for all links in the chain - including consumers.

Routines for this are not currently implemented, but seafood companies, shops and researchers all want to address this.

Testing traceability

"We are now working on the traceability of fresh fish fillet at Coop," says Scientist Kine Mari Karlsen, one of three Fiskeriforskning scientists researching traceability.

The project involves Molde firm Vikomar, which buys fish from the fishing fleet, processing company Naustvik in Oslo and one Coop Mega supermarket in Bærum.

Seafood companies, shops and researches are now working on opportunities to trace information through all production and transport links.


The initial aim is to enable traceability of fish fillet produced from whitefish species such as cod, saithe and haddock sold at serviced seafood counters.

Number for each product

To enable traceability, a system must be introduced with a unique number for each product. Companies must also register if products are divided up or mixed so they become new units.

If a large crate of cod fillet with a unique number is repacked as several smaller crates, each of the new crates must receive a new unique number.

The product history must also follow each of the new crates to show that they come from the same large crate.

When traceability is introduced in the companies, work continues to enter information that constitutes the history, such as the date of catch and the temperature during processing and transport.

The collaboration project with SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture was commissioned by the Norwegian Seafood Association.

Traceability requires a common computer language so different software can exchange information. A standard, TraceCore XML, has already been developed.

Creating a common language

A host of information about the catch is entered into computers when the fish is landed. However, as the companies use different computer software, the information cannot be forwarded automatically.

When the fishermen sell the catch, information like fish species, size, price, catch area and boat are registered. This is the information entered into the databases at the fishermen's sales organisation, the intermediary which takes care of the actual sale between the fishermen and buyer.

"Different software both internally within the company and between companies means the information must be entered again manually if it shall follow the fish to the consumer," says Scientist Petter Olsen. "That means more work and greater costs."

Aker Seafoods Båtsfjord branch is the testing ground for a project headed by the Norwegian Seafood Federation. The project?s objective is to make the information traceable when it is entered into the computer.

The company is therefore collaborating with the Norwegian Fishermen's Sales Organisation, equipment supplier Maritech and Fiskeriforskning to introduce common standards for information exchange.

Standard in place

A standard is like a direction which indicates the codes or computer language which must be utilised so the information can be understood by all computer systems. In this way, it is possible to collect and forward the information among those who have dealings with the product, from the producer to the consumer.

A standard, TraceCore XML, has been developed, which describes how information can be coded and transferred electronically. This specifies, for example, there must be a unique number for each product and that dividing or mixing of products must be registered.

Suitable for different industries

Standards can also be used for different industries with information and codes which are unique for different types of foodstuffs, such as fish or meat.

Fiskeriforskning has previously developed the standard TraceFish for wild-caught and farmed fish. This is a specification of what information is necessary, such as fish species and specification of product type such as fresh or frozen.

In the ongoing EU project TRACE, Fiskeriforskning is leading the development of standards to trace meet, chicken, grain, honey and mineral water.

Ellen Hardy