Japan’s First Comprehensive Fishery Product Traceability System
A project is about to start to address comprehensive fishery product traceability boosted by IoT(Internet of Things) technology in Japan. Through the system development utilizing the blockchain technology, it is possible to work towards the achievement of the SDGs, the challenges common to all human beings today.
By Shoichiro Kawano
Blockchain Technology
Japan’s Fisheries Agency
Blockchain Technology
Japan’s Fisheries Agency
A South African

brand has recently taken the spotlight on the fashion scene. The crocodile leather handbags, sold by the popular South African brand “Okapi” and priced about 120,000 yen, were sold out just hours after going on sale. Hanneli Rupert, the founder and owner of Okapi, told that they have actually become a true luxury brand by ensuring the traceability of our raw materials in an interview by Forbes. She also stated that the crocodile leather is a by-product of other products and not involved in the destruction of nature. Traceability is essential to creating a sustainable society, which is the goal of the SDGs, as well as one of the requirements for improving product competitiveness.

Honma Gyogyo, a fishery company operating in Muroran city in Hokkaido, stands out as having Japan’s first comprehensive fishery product traceability system which enables information about their fishery products to be traced from the sea to the consumers. The company has about 50 employees. It has four Danish seine trawlers with a capacity of 140 tons to catch Alaskan pollock and generates about 1.5 billion yen in annual sales.

While the fish catches must be limited in a certain level to prevent stock depletion, the President Shinkichi Honma was considering how they could improve fishery profits in other ways. They had already introduced energy-saving vessels to save on fuel cost.

They had to promote innovation of fishery in order to adapt them to developed society by reviewing the misfits happening between historically practiced traditional fishery and installed technology.

The President was also feeling a large innovation “gap” between the traditional fishery practiced for centuries and the developed society of today.

He thought to develop a smarter fishery practice by digitalizing vessel logging and fish catch information to share them with the workers waiting for the vessels at the port.

Around that time, he met Nobuyuki Yagi, Professor at Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the University of Tokyo, who researches fishery product pricing mechanisms. The president asked “We would like to digitalize vessel logging.” Professor Yagi had known that Alaska pollock can be a good fishery product to export based on the knowledge from his research. He smiled and answered to the President “How about introducing a comprehensive traceability system for Alaskan pollock? I’m sure that such system can be an innovative system for our future fishery.”

It was at that moment that the fishery company in Hokkaido and the leading technology of the University of Tokyo decided to cooperate to develop Japan’s first comprehensive fishery product traceability system.

The challenge to achieve it was a distribution channel of Alaskan pollock. Alaskan pollock are sometimes exported as they are, but often seperated into the body and roe and are used to make boiled fish paste. They are distributed to consumers via a chain of many actors, such as brokers, processing firms, transportation, and retailers. Logging all deals in the food chain is required to achieve traceability.

Masazumi Akazawa, once a researcher at the University of Tokyo, who now researches blockchain, was identified. CREATORS COIN Corporation, the company he founded, is now in charge of the system development for this project.

His vision is to log date/time and locations of vessels when Alaskan pollock are caught and also log all deals through the distribution process including fishery ports and processing firms, utilizing the blockchain characteristics that enable stakeholders to own their appropriate right to access blocks of information (this technology is called Smart Contract) while logs are safely sealed to avoid inappropriate information leaking or being illegally manipulated. Consumers are able see all the information through the distribution process using the Timeline feature, for example, by just tapping a dedicated app on their smartphones.

With this system, consumers will be able to buy safer food with a transparent distribution channel. This would also make it easier to locate the cause in case of food poisoning.

The system will have further benefits in addition to the great efficiencies mentioned above.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency has begun to make efforts to improve the fishery industry, such as working on a drastic revision of the Fisheries Law in 2018, which was the first in 70 years.

It has been pointed out that the system is also expected to prevent fish poaching. According to the report in 2016 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is suspected that 30% of the fish catches in the world are illegal. A report published in Japan last year, “Sakana to Yakuza” (written by Tomohiko Suzuki), stated that half of the sea cucumbers caught in Japan, which are treated as a luxury foodstuff in China, are caught illegally. Fish poaching of sea cucumbers, abalones, sea urchins, and eels could be a business of over 10 billion yen. If there were only fish with traceable logs in the market, it would be possible to prevent illegal fishery deals, saving fishery resources which are managed with great effort by local fisheries from overexploration.

Furthermore, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic requires “all of its fishery products to be made of fish caught in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.” It is also virtually impossible to export to Europe without obtaining international certification. The blockchain system will help Japan to establish an eco-certification system that is also applicable overseas.

Akazawa, who is in charge of system development, also points out, “For example, if a fisherman uses a fishing net that is friendly to the environment, it is possible to add information about the fish net to the fish caught by the fisherman. Using the characteristics of the blockchain to convey useful records to consumers, the seafood itself can obtain additional value.“

Japan’s Fisheries Agency has begun to make efforts to improve the fishery industry, such as working on a drastic revision of the Fisheries Law in 2018, which was the first in 70 years. Furthermore, if a comprehensive fishery product traceability system that links the sea to consumers using blockchain technology can be put to practical use, the value of the Japanese fishery industry may increase internationally. In addition, cooking with fish connected to their source in this way may provide an opportunity for people to experience the spirit of SDGs.

Sustainable Development Goals