Now nearly a year and a half after the Philippines’ launch of their first end-to-end digital seafood traceability system, USAID Oceans continues to work closely with the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and its grantee, the SOCSKSARGEN Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII), to test and enhance the capabilities of the Philippines’ National Electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability System (eCDTS) that was launched in early September 2017 during the Philippines’ 19th National Tuna Congress. The system was developed by the Government of the Philippines to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing through full-chain traceability, from the point of catch to export. Over the last year, involved partners have been able to begin to assess the impacts of the system and identify a strategy for expanding the system beyond the General Santos City learning site and throughout the Philippines.
The BFAR eCDTS has been designed to obtain Key Data Elements at every stage of the supply chain, enabling traceability data to be entered and stored electronically with more efficient validation processes. At the point of catch, the system will utilize Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) onboard large-scale fishing vessels to capture key data and ensure the fish has been caught from a permitted area. Upon landing, data captured by the VMS for the e-logsheet will be electronically submitted to BFAR, which will be used by BFAR Fishery Officers to inspect and validate unloaded catch to approve the Fish Unloading and Monitoring Report. Following, the fishing company can apply for a Catch Origin Landing Declaration (COLD) via the eCDT system to be validated by a BFAR inspector before the fish is transported for processing. Once the fish has been processed and is ready for export, the processing/canning company can submit an application for a Catch Certificate (CC) via the system. Currently, BFAR, USAID Oceans, and SFFAII are working to complete all links of the system. The system can currently electronically track catch from the point of landing to application of the CC for export, with the connection between VMS and landing the last connection to be made. Currently, the e-logsheet data is being manually recorded at-sea and entered into the eCDTS at the point of landing. Work is currently underway to link the VMS systems into BFAR’s eCDTS. Once fully linked, the BFAR eCDTS will be able to capture and transmit data from the point of catch through to export to achieve full-chain traceability.
The BFAR eCDTS web-based application can be used to store and submit traceability data through each stage of the supply chain. A mobile application is currently under development. Photo: USAID Oceans/Len Garces
The eCDTS is currently being piloted with selected First Movers from fishing and processing companies through the collaborative efforts of USAID Oceans and its grantee, SFFAII, as well as BFAR Regional Field Office 12. To date, the system has traced over 25 metric tons of tuna from the First Movers, who include Tuna Explorers Inc, Marchael Sea Ventures, Rell and Renn Fishing Inc., Dex Sea Trading, General Tuna Canning Corp., Philippine Cinmic Industrial Corp., and RR Seafood Sphere Inc. First Mover partners are currently using the eCDTS in parallel with their traditional paper-based documentation systems, with the goal to fully transition to electronic documentation the eCDTS is fully functional and beyond the piloting stage. USAID Oceans and SFFAII have held a series of eCDTS live data testing activities with the fishing companies, canneries, and fresh-frozen processors to demonstrate the expediency of the eCDTS.
Piloting the system has enabled technical issues to be identified before large-scale rollout, including system “bugs,” servers capacity requirements, and internet connectivity issues, among others. While these challenges have slowed down the piloting process and have at times cause system outages, these experiences are inherent to any new system development process and has allowed both BFAR and USAID Oceans to learn from the challenges to enhance the Philippines’ system and inform other regional traceability initiatives. BFAR programmers and technicians involved in the system development based in Manila are leading the system maintenance and improvement process, further building their capacity in adaptive system design and management. The team has been able to address technical issues remotely, from Manila, with visits to General Santos learning site to work closely with the First Movers as needed.
One lesson learned during the ongoing eCDTS pilot phase is that efficient and consistent communication between stakeholders is crucial in expediting the solutions to recurring issues, facilitating uninterrupted system testing, and overcoming any constraints for the First Movers or industry partners in a timely manner. USAID Oceans has been coordinating between BFAR and SFFAII, who work closely with the First Movers, to facilitate exchanges of feedback and solutions related to the technical challenges encountered through regular meetings and system development workshops. The workshops enabled all partners to discuss and address issues encountered during testing, as well as initiate action plans for further implementation of the eCDTS.
Looking forward, through its USAID Oceans grant, SFFAII will continue piloting the system with First Movers, with additional trainings held to support each partner and prepare local industry for large-scale rollout of the system. USAID Oceans, BFAR, and program technology partner, Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprises, Inc., are also working together to integrate small-scale vessel data into the eCDTS. USAID Oceans continues to work with its partners across Southeast Asia to provide technical guidance and support on their journeys to end-to-end traceability, sharing experiences from the Philippines’ pilot.
SFFAII and First Mover representatives attend the Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in February 2019, to learn about cutting-edge technology developments that can strengthen the Philippines’ eCDT initiatives. Under its grant with USAID Oceans, SFFAII provides support to First Mover representatives to attend regional events to learn from and present technology solutions and challenges. Photo: USAID Oceans/Melinda Donnelly