You've probably never sat down at a restaurant and wondered if the pork on the menu was actually pork. You'd never be cool with eating beef that might be horse. So why do we still have to deal with the murky waters of the seafood industry? If this Kickstarter campaign has its way, we (eventually) won't have to anymore.
Dock to Dish—a collection of community-based seafood sourcing programs in cities around the US, Canada, and Costa Rica—wants to stop seafood fraud by building a traceability system for restaurant guests to track their seafood. The organization needs to raise $75,000 by the end of March to make this happen.
"We are on a mission to fix the broken seafood supply system with our unique cooperative programs and the latest advances in technology," the campaign page reads. "Today we invite you to join us on our journey to launch Dock to Dish 2.0 which will make precision traceability a reality, and catapult local seafood sourcing into the digital age."
Chef Michael Cimarusti, the man behind Providence and Cape Seafood and Provisions, was the first Los Angeles adopter of the Dock to Dish LA pilot program in 2015, is now doing what he can to get the word out about the Kickstarter.
"This is the kind of thing—this tracking technology and traceability technology—will really help combat seafood fraud," he told MUNCHIES. "I think it's the kind of thing that if it works, and we can prove that it can be done without adding a tremendous amount of cost to seafood, or without creating a bunch of upheaval within the system, it'll probably be something that can push its way up the supply chain."
So how does it work? It all starts at a dock. A fisherman drops off his catch, which is then placed into a plastic tote bag fixed with a barcode.
"The barcode is read by the person receiving the fish, and then that information is collected by cellular towers. You can actually follow the fish, those totes, to wherever the final destination is and all points in between."
Because the information is transmitted through cellular towers and not via satellite, the location gets updated every five minutes. "It's as close to real-time as you're going to get," Cimarusti said.
The Kickstarter will launch the tracking system at the flagship Dock to Dish outpost in Montauk, New York, with hopes that it will scale up in time.
"Dock to Dish is a very small program, and it's a program that's growing," Cimarusti said. "When you think about it in the larger sense of the seafood system, it's really a very small player. But that's where change starts I think."
For Cimarusti, traceable seafood is a no-brainer. We've gotten to a point where grassroots movements like Fair Trade and organic food are now commonplace. Consumers want to know where their eggs came from, and now Cimarusti and Dock to Dish want more from the seafood industry.
"I think it's time to apply all of the principles that lead us to those points, and brought us to the point that there's such a demand in the market for organic or antibiotic-free meat, or hormone-free meat, or non-GMO produce," Cimarusti said.
"There are a definitely movements afoot in every sort of facet of the food system where consumers have created a groundswell of demand which the market has responded to. I think seafood is the next place you're going to see that. Eventually we're going to get to a point where the market does demand that we want to know where our fish comes from, we want to know where it was caught, and we want to make sure that what we're buying is what it's supposed to be. Hopefully, we're slowly getting to that point."