Traceability 101

There’s a new buzzword in the sustainable seafood movement: traceability.  But like “sustainability,” “traceability” is an ambiguous and confusing concept.


At its most basic definition, traceability is a record-keeping system designed to track the flow of product through the production process or supply chain.


But what that looks like in practice can vary greatly.

For many businesses, traceability means having the data to know what came in the company’s door, and what left. For others, the term implies sophisticated electronic data systems that can store product information in the form of bar codes. Some think the word means having a set of standards by which data is recorded and shared. And yet others hold that traceability must provide access to essential information about how fishing takes place.

The truth is, everyone is correct.

Today, there are multiple functions that all fall into the traceability bucket.  These functions exist to serve different business and regulatory needs.  And that’s where things get complicated.  For companies to effectively root out environmental and social ills such as fraud, illegal fish, and human rights abuse, requires a combination of multiple traceability functions applied across the entire supply chain.

The need

Environmental and social NGOs working in the seafood arena today confront a new difficulty: Keeping up with the rapidly evolving traceability landscape. Members of the NGO community, especially those already engaged in traceability work, recognize that implementing robust, end-to-end traceability requires the coordinated effort of multiple NGOs and their industry partners. Such coordination will be far more efficient and effective with common definitions, training tools, and communication resources in hand.

The toolkit

To help fellow NGOs navigate this important topic and work with industry partners more effectively, Future of Fish, with the assistance of FishWise, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), led research and development of educational and communication tools. Following surveys and interviews with conservation organizations, Future of Fish created resources to meet internal NGO staff training needs and to use with industry partners. The resources on this site were designed to meet the expressed need for multiple forms of media that include high-level concepts and more detailed explanations. These tools can be used by NGO organizations internally and externally.

The current suite of tools can be accessed via the page sidebar as well as being linked below:


The NGO Traceability Toolkit was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.