After eyeing a piece of haddock on the supermarket counter, a customer scans a code and finds out the fish was caught in the waters of Georges Bank and learns the name of the fishing boat — and maybe even sees a picture of the smiling, rain-slickened fisherman who reeled it in. Welcome to the future of buying New England seafood.
A group of scientists and fishermen said the technology isn’t about a gimmick so much as survival. They’re working on a new tool they say will allow consumers to learn the backstory of a piece of fish while standing in the supermarket aisle with their smartphone.
In an era when many sectors of the New England fishing industry are struggling with depleted resources and choking catch quotas, increasing the cachet of local seafood could be the last, best hope, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, one of the groups involved in the “Boat to Plate” project.
“Most fishermen don’t want to be involved in this kind of stuff. They want to go out into the water,” said Martens, whose group represents 35 mostly small-boat fishermen. “We just don’t think that’s the way of the future.”
Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland is developing the tool, which was recently awarded a $175,000 federal government grant, in cooperation with Maine Coast. Final release is about two years away and will likely take the form of a smartphone app, said Jen Levin, the institute’s sustainable seafood program manager.
The project involves bringing together data about the different pieces of the supply chain — including catch, landing, auction, processing and delivery — and allows the buyer to see all the way back to the fisherman, Levin said.
The plan is the latest in the fast-growing food traceability tech sector, which seeks to connect retailers, restaurants and customers with the origin and journey of their food. The world market for food traceability technologies will reach $11.15 billion in 2015, an increase of more than a half-billion dollars from the previous year, according to market research firm Visiongain.
Consumers have had access to technology that connects them with the histories of such items as flour, berries, Alaskan salmon and antibiotic-free beef since the late 2000s, industry professionals said. The QR codes — the black and white digital squares readable with a camera — appear in both farmers markets and high-end restaurants.
The Gulf of Maine seafood tool represents a new horizon in food traceability in that it will use data from multiple sources to bring traceable seafood from a large, diverse fishery to supermarket consumers, Levin said. Hannaford Supermarkets, which has more than 150 locations in New England and New York, is on board. Read More…