Blockchain is a technology to achieve complete transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain of any product. Rather than requiring a central register to manage the flow of data, the blockchain principle allows a set of organisations to securely verify, execute, and record the transactions between them, creating a peer-to-peer network without relying on an intermediary. The data the fishers enter into this open database (location, species, quantity, identity of the fisher, etc.) ensure traceability and enable promotional actions to increase consumer awareness and local consumption.
The existence of this technology gave three Italian FLAGs from Campania the idea of starting FLAGCHAIN, a project to provide complete transparency and traceability of the catches from the small-scale fishing (SSF) boats in their areas. All three areas had already identified weaknesses due to poor digitalisation, the onerous bureaucracy required to comply with marketing regulations, a lack of traceability of the SSF catches, low public awareness of local catches and their seasons, and the loss of traditional habits of eating local fish.
As well as developing an app, the project trained fishers who, due to their age, lacked digital skills. The fishers, who enter their data into the system via their phones, were involved from the start to ensure the app’s user-friendliness. An awareness-raising campaign was also carried out in the second half of 2021 to stress the benefits of traceability to small-scale fishers, and thus promote the use of the app.
Using this technology modernises the SSF value chain and moves the sector forward in the digitalisation process. It allows SSF fishers to get ahead of their competitors, satisfy the pressing demand for transparency, and emphasise the strengths of the sector and the quality of their product and the processes they use.
So far six fishing boats (two in each FLAG area) are entering their data into the system. However, the number is expected to reach 50% of the fleet during 2023. New data, such as the geo-positioning and date and timing of the catches, will also be fed into the system, such as the logbook (following EU regulation 1224/09) and the water quality at fish farm sites. A direct sales module and a module for the promotion of local fish products (linking up with fisheries heritage sites, local costumes and recipes, and nutritional values) will also be added.
The project is inspired by the principle of transferability: the main goal of the three FLAGs is to have a common platform where all the information needed to ensure the traceability of fish from small-scale fisheries is recorded, in the region, in Italy and in the EU. The blockchain is based on the principle that no third parties are involved (no control by a central organisation). The FLAGCHAIN app has been built on an open source blockchain protocol, called Quadrans, which has low running costs and energy requirements. The platform can be customised to meet the needs of other FLAG areas, and the more fishers who use the app, the more detailed the traceability will be.
Lessons & contribution to CLLD objectives:
Lessons: This project shows that involvement of all stakeholders (small-scale fishers, port authorities, cooperatives) from the start is vital to ensure transparency and traceability in the value chain of SSF products. It also proves that the blockchain system can be applied successfully in the SSF segment, even given the current low level of digitalisation. In order to avoid the need to charge the fishers a membership fee in the future, the FLAGs are looking for alternative ways to cover the maintenance costs of the app, such as sponsors, other actors in the supply chain and employers’ associations.
Contribution to CLLD objective: (a) adding value, creating jobs, attracting young people and promoting innovation at all stages of the supply chain of fishery and aquaculture products;