If you’ve worked in the fisheries industry long enough, you’ve probably heard about the concept of electronic catch documentation and traceability, or “eCDT.” eCDT is becoming a buzz-word in the fisheries industry in Southeast Asia and across the globe, and for good reason.

eCDT is the practice of electronically documenting key information about the harvest, processing, and transportation of seafood products to be able to trace the product back to its origin. It helps ensure products are legally caught, encourages data collection and analysis throughout the seafood supply chain, and supports sustainable, efficient, and nationally and internationally compliant fisheries management practices.

While many actors in the fishing industry are familiar with eCDT, they are challenged by the lack of guidance on how to shift from historically paper-based systems to more advanced eCDT systems. That is why the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership (USAID Oceans) is working with partners throughout Southeast Asia to develop “Technical Guidance on the Design and Implementation of eCDT Systems in Southeast Asia.” To advance this effort, during the week of December 2, 2019, USAID Oceans convened eCDT technical working group members and regional partners, including the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) and the Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) to take part in a workshop to finalize this important document.

In addition to soliciting input from technical working group members on the regional guidance, the workshop was also an opportunity for USAID Oceans’ technology partners, Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise (FAME), Nutrindo, Altermyth, and Masyarakat Dan Perikanan Indonesia (MDPI), to present the eCDT technologies being implemented at the USAID Oceans’ learning sites in Indonesia and the Philippines. These partners also shared other existing eCDT technologies that may be relevant to fisheries throughout the region. FAME CEO, Arcelio Fetizanan, updated participants on the development of the “Fishtegrate” system that he and other tech developers designed at the USAID Oceans-supported Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability Seafood Hackathon, in Bali, Indonesia this past October. Fishtegrate is a hardware and software solution to connect traceability applications, including government systems, to improve interoperability. Mr. Fetizanan’s presentation came at an opportune time, as the importance of integrated eCDT systems was raised numerous times throughout the week’s workshop.

Mr. Fetizanan commented, “It was a great honor to be part of the eCDT Guidance Document workshop. It gave us a chance to share our experiences and our technology to the ASEAN community. It gave us a chance also to collaborate and provide insights and ideas that will be helpful for standardizing our fish catch documentation and traceability process in the region.”

Gender equity and human welfare, crucial considerations in fisheries, were also topics of discussion during the eCDT workshop. On day two of the workshop, USAID Oceans’ Gender Specialist, Dr. Arlene Satapornvanit, led a session on the program’s successes and lessons learned related to the implementation of gender integration activities. She discussed the need for women to be involved in eCDT development and uptake, and for improved policies that support women’s roles in the fisheries industry. The event also featured profiles of women leaders and gender champions in the fisheries industry, many of whom are part of a “Women in Fisheries Campaign” recently launched by Second Muse and the Seafood Innovation Project, with support from USAID Oceans.

During a coffee break, workshop attendees read profiles of women fishers and gender champions in the fisheries industry. Photo: USAID Oceans/L. Bader

On the final day of the workshop, representatives from each country in attendance voiced their support for finalizing and implementing the regional eCDT guidance. At the time of writing, the Technical Guidance on the Design and Implementation of eCDT Systems in Southeast Asia is undergoing final revisions based on feedback from workshop participants. Once finalized, it will be a reference for regional eCDT standards, resource requirements, and protocol implementation to encourage the adoption, sustained use, and replication of eCDT systems across ASEAN. In April 2020, the finalized eCDT guidance will be shared at SEAFDEC’s Council Directors Meeting and made available to SEAFDEC member countries for use in the development and continued implementation of national and regional eCDT initiatives.

“Looking beyond the USAID Oceans program, there is a continued need to effectively manage and conserve Southeast Asia’s fisheries through eCDT systems that collect and use data to guide decision making and increase transparency in the seafood supply chain. Based on the active engagement of all participants at the workshop, we are confident that USAID Oceans’ partners will continue to work together to push forward this important initiative that advances the region’s leadership in seafood traceability.” –Cristina Velez Srinivasan, Ecosystems Management and Trade Team Lead, USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia.

Participants discuss next steps for eCDT and the supporting regional guidance during a break-out session. Photo: USAID Oceans/L. Bader