Ocean to your plate – trace your fish!

joanna_clarke    June 12, 2017

Recognizing social media is so much more then Twitter, Facebook or an online forum, I took my question to Professor Peter Carr of the University of Waterloo to understand what social media really is defined as; he noted:

“There isn’t a generally accepted definition and opinions probably include narrow, which would be restricted to popular public tools (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and broader, including any form of online communications (email, Yammer, SharePoint etc.). I use the broader approach, any online communication between two or more people could be included.”

Understanding Carr’s definition on social media, we can really look into how might social media fit into companies – and in what realms? Specifically for the topic of this post, how does social media fit into supply chain? From course material in my Social Media for Business Performance at the University of Waterloo, it is discussed that there are a variety applications for social media in the supply chain, but there are a few I really want to focus on that I find make an interesting case study: visibility, stakeholders and purchasing.

Visibility, stakeholders and purchasing – let’s get fishy with it!

For the purpose of digging into visibility, stakeholders and purchasing from part of supply chain management through application of social media, we will be look at the seafood industry. A study completed in 2016 by Oceana “found seafood mislabeling in every sector of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing and landing.” There is a noticeable trend within the seafood industry to move towards having traceable, sustainable seafood. There are two big reasons for this that this post will focus on: the large-scale fish fraud happening and the state of how overfished our oceans are. Let’s take a quick look on some statistics around fish fraud and overfishing, exhibiting their significance:

  • “Around 80 percent of fisheries are either collapsing or just fully exploited” (Vicente Troya, 2017)
  • “…by the year 2050 the oceans could contain more plastic than fish, measured by weight” (Vicente Troya, 2017)
  • “In the U.S., studies released since 2014 found an average fraud rate of 28 percent, weighted by sample size.” (Oceana, 2016)
  • “More than half (58 percent) of the samples substituted for other seafood were a species that pose a health risk to consumers, meaning that consumers could be unwittingly eating fish that could make them sick.” (Oceana, 2016)

There are a couple of areas that I have found tools via social media that really dive into the areas of visibility, stakeholders and purchasing space in supply chain management – one of the areas of traceable seafood and one is in the area of sustainable seafood. Course material for University of Waterloo Social Media for Business Performance discusses these three areas; a brief outline below:

  • Visibility: “Supply chain visibility is knowing product volumes and locations at any given time and understanding supply chain activities.”
  • Stakeholders: “They can influence the nature of individual supply chains by applying pressure around particular concerns they might have. Customers are a critical stakeholder.”
  • Purchasing: “In many organizations, the purchasing process used to focus mostly on buying from the cheapest supplier. Now most organizations recognize that price is important, but so too is quality, delivery reliability, and other factors.”

Traceable Seafood

The tools available in the area of traceable seafood are from a company like ThisFish. ThisFish prides itself on selling only sustainable seafood, and through a transparent lens. Products that are sold come with a code, which you can put into the website and it will detail information including:

  • What the fish is
  • Who harvested it
  • How it was harvested
  • Where it was harvested

There are three “pillars” that ThisFish sticks to, quoted below as outlined on their website, and they speak to varying levels of visibility, stakeholders and purchasing:

  • ensure an authentic, meaningful experience to consumers hungry for trusted information on the authenticity, quality and sustainability of their seafood;
  • provide real-time market intelligence and branding advantages for every business in the seafood supply chain from fishermen to fishmongers; and
  • Create an easy-to-use and low-cost traceability system that is accessible to small operators and rural fishermen

ThisFish is an initiative of Ecotrust Canada and fishing industry partners.

Sustainable Seafood

The tools available in the area of sustainable seafood are from those like SeaChoice and OceanWise. Both coming with available apps, they allow you to look up individual seafood products, and understand based on state of the species, where it is caught and how it is caught, what you can find that is sustainable or not. It will rank from best, to worst, through a sticker system of (quoted from SeaChoice website):

  • Green (best choice): Best Choice seafood is well managed, abundant, and caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.
  • Yellow (some concerns): Some Concerns seafood should be consumed infrequently, or when a green choice is not available. There are concerns with abundance, management, or impacts on habitat or other marine life.
  • Red (avoid): Avoid seafood items from this for now. They come from farmed or wild sources with a combination of critical problems – habitat damage, lethal impacts on other species, critically low populations or poor management.

This easily allows customers to have choose their fish sustainably, in a simple manner. OceanWise works similar to SeaChoice, though their labelling system is one also often found working in conjunction with restaurants selling sustainable seafood items.

(Note the below video discusses two other sustainability certifications, ASC and MSC, and American supermarkets, but still speaks to the point of this post.)

Lessons for Others

It is not without some level of conflict of how and what people are recognizing as sustainable. There is currently a disagreement between SeaChoice and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (similar seafood guide to SeaChoice) about a certain kind of farmed salmon. Similarly, it is a challenge to have people buy into utilizing these systems when it is one more step for them to do. Grocery stores and restaurants are getting more on board with this, as time goes on, and this is helping to uncomplicated the process for people to buy sustainable items. As well, it is not uncommon anymore for sustainable fish to be something that is quite common for people to know about or ask about.

The three areas of supply chain management that this post has touched on – visibility, stakeholders and purchasing, could not be more important for companies to focus on now and in the future. The two generations that are really taking power in the customer industry are the Millennials and Generation Z (Get Z); if we look outside seafood, and to a few more general statistics…:

  • “Gen Z is also very socially conscious and politically active. They care about human rights and the environment and identify with companies that share their values and reward them with their business. In fact, 60% of Gen Zers support brands that take a stand on issues they believe in.” (Renfrow, 2017)
  • “”Millennials are shaping how giving will be. They’re coming in, making certain demands.” That includes increased transparency and accountability around where their money goes. A study conducted by the Millennial Impact Project says 78 per cent of millennials are “very likely or somewhat likely to stop donating if they didn’t know how the donation was making an impact.”” (Bouw, 2016)

  • It is predicted that by 2025, the “Millennials and Gen Z will account for 45% of the luxury market. … Now, brands must consider the values of younger generations, for whom community, authenticity and transparency play an important part in how they purchase luxury goods.” (Hoang, 2017).

It seems apparent by trends in multiple areas that there is a growing sense of caring – across multiple platforms, highlighted in the groups of visibility, stakeholders and purchasing. This suggests it is a smart business decision to implement investment of time and resources in this area, to build to become an industry front runner or leader – with fish, fashion or anything in between!

Note: there are other available services, apps and organizations that work why traceable, sustainable seafood, those discussed in this post are just a sample.

Organization: ThisFish & SeaChoice
Industry: Seafood
Name of Organization Contact: None from organizations highlighted. Conversation with Peter Carr, University of Waterloo.

Authored by: Joanna Clarke

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


Bouw, B. (2016, December 22). When giving to charity, millennials want transparency and accountability. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved on June 11, 2017 from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/genymoney/when-it-comes-to-charitable-giving-millenials-want-transparency-and-accountability/article33399509/

Broughton, J. (2017, June 7). How Fishpeople is Making Seafood More Transparent. Inc.com. Retrieved on June 7, 2017 from https://www.inc.com/jenna-broughton/how-fishpeople-is-making-seafood-more-transparent.html

Carr, P. (2017, June 3). Definition of “social media”. Message posted to https://learn.uwaterloo.ca/d2l/le/306785/discussions/topics/253472/View

Hoang, L. (2017, May 29). Luxury’s Generation Gap. Business of Fashion. Retrieved on June 11, 2017 from https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/bain-luxury-study-growth-millennials-generation-gap

Oceana. (2016, September 7). 1 in 5 Seafood Samples Mislabeled Worldwide, Finds New Oceana Report. Oceana. Retrieved on June 11, 2017 from http://usa.oceana.org/seafood-fraud/2016-global-reach-seafood-fraud?_ga=2.113844035.535636994.1497225396-1279143797.1484680955

Renfrow, J. (2017, June 9). Generation Z looking to identify with brands. FierceRetail. Retrieved on June 11, 2017 from http://www.fierceretail.com/digital/gen-z-looking-to-identify-brands

Vicente Troya, J. (2017, June 5). Why we need to save our oceans now – not later. United Nations Development ProgramRetrieved June 5, 2017 from http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/blog/2017/6/5/La-urgencia-de-actuar-para-salvar-los-oc-anos.html