OSU connects seafood lovers with their fish

Rockfish at the Seafood Consumer Center in Astoria, Ore. OSU photo by Lynn Ketchum

Conscientious seafood lovers care that the fish on their plates is responsibly sourced. But, how can they be sure? Ninety percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, making verification difficult at best. Consumer guides like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch are helpful but cannot verify whether the entire “value chain” — from fishing boat to processor to restaurant or store — is fairly, sustainably and safely managed.

Gil Sylvia, director of OSU’s Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station in Newport, has spearheaded the decade-long development of a real-time, online traceability platform called Fish Trax, as well as two sub-platforms: Pacific Fish Trax, which focuses on Washington, Oregon and California fisheries, and Fish Trax Marketplace, a national consumer portal.

Here’s how the Marketplace portal works: You use your smartphone at a member restaurant in Alabama, for example, to scan a QR-code on a menu next to the Gulf red snapper.” The website immediately tells you where, when and by whom the fish was caught.

Fish Trax and its portals have registered approximately 300 fishing vessels, 16 restaurants and six processors. The relationship is reciprocal — individual fishermen can use the portals as a marketing tool, while scientists and fisheries managers can analyze their catch data to ensure a sustainable future for the industry.

Sylvia expects Fish Trax to continue to grow, both domestically and internationally. Oregon’s fishing industry brings in an annual average of $123 million, and, beginning in January 2017, a new federal law requires extensive traceability data for imported fish. Sylvia is recruiting new members from around the globe, particularly in Southeast Asia. So, whether consumers order Oregon pink shrimp or Indonesian prawns, they can trust that their meal is delicious, healthy  and sustainable.

Sources: Gil Sylvia, Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, and Michael Morrissey (emeritus), Food Innovation Center