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Swedish Fisheries Board Expected to Issue Fish-Traceability Framework in Mid-2012

The board's recommendations will outline an RFID-based system for fulfilling EU regulations for tracking the seafood supply chain, beginning in 2013.
By Rhea Wessel
Dec 27, 2011The Swedish Board of Fisheries is designing the policy framework, due out in mid 2012, for an RFID system to trace fish from the time they are caught until it reaches the consumer. Once the framework is in place, the board will begin selecting technology partners for the system.

In 2010, the board tested elements of such a system. The test was part of the eTrace project, funded by the European Union's SafeFoodEra food-safety research program, was focused on gaining visibility in a variety of food supply chains throughout Europe (see Scandinavian Group Finds That Tracked Cod Sells Better). After the test, the board concluded that an EPCIS-based system was effective for fulfilling EU regulations requiring certain fish to be traceable starting in 2013 and all species are to be traceable by 2015.

Now, as part of an eTrace follow-on endeavor usually referred to as the "fish-traceability project," the board is working to define how the traceability system should be set up and implemented, how it should be maintained and which measures are needed to keep data secure and facilitate the sharing of data with authorities in other countries. The board is consulting with umbrella associations and other representatives of various members of the fish supply chain, including fishermen, retailers and distributors, on how they can participate in the RFID-based tracking system and how the system can be used to benefit the industry. For instance, the eTrace test showed that consumers are willing to pay a premium for fish if they know its origin.

By moving ahead with the RFID-based system for tracing fish, the Swedish Board of Fisheries is essentially mandating the use of RFID for an entire industry and across an entire country, something that may be a first, according to Niklas Hild, a consultant to the board who is managing the fish-traceability project. "Although it stopped short of mandating RFID in an official government document, Sweden has basically said RFID is the way to go for fish traceability," Hild said on the sidelines of RFID Journal LIVE! 2011, held in Amsterdam in November.

According to Hild, the current phase of the fish traceability project is not focused on technology but on project governance. "We know that the technology works and can be purchased, and we know which standards are best. We're now looking at getting a policy framework in place," Hild said, adding, "We'll select our technology partners in 2012."

The governance matters that need to be settled are not small, particularly questions of how data will be exchanged across borders. "If Swedish fishermen are fishing in Danish waters, send the catch to Germany, where the fish is made into filets and is exported to France, a French consumer must be able to ask his retailer where the fish came from," Hild explained. "So you need to go from France, to Germany, to Denmark, to Sweden in a second to find that information. That's a big challenge."

The Swedish government is working on an extensive report explaining its progress in the project and outlining its ideas on how to implement the system, which is seen as a model for the rest of Europe. That report is a work in progress and expected to be made final by mid 2012.

"Since Sweden is the country that has done the most in this area, representatives from all 27 European Union countries visited Gothenburg in May to find out how Sweden plans to implement an RFID-based fish-tracking system," Hild said.
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