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Introducing traceability to the fishing sector

The announcement via press release on Fisherman’s Birthday of a new “open and inclusive Grenadian company” that unites “Fishers, Fisher Associations and the Fisheries Ministry/Fisheries Division of Grenada” came as a surprise to some fishermen, while being met with skepticism by others.  

The company – Grenada National Export Traceability Technology Incorporated (GNExTT) – describes itself as “an innovative Blue Growth project initiated in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries to enhance the sustainability and profitability of the Tuna fisheries here in Grenada.”

Aldwyn Ferguson, president of the Gouyave Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Ltd., said GNExTT will enable Grenada to “change the way we export by adding value to our product and shipping less wastage,” as fish would be processed before being exported.  

He told The Grenadian Voice on Tuesday that the cooperative supports the new company and sees this as an opportunity for the “state” to demonstrate more support for fishermen. The release encourages fishermen to register with the company and “land at GNExTT participating facilities” when bringing in their catch. This will allow GNExTT staff to register boats with barcodes “that will align to a newly developed centralized database housed within the IT department of the Government of Grenada.” The databases will link with a “world-wide traceability system.”

One member of the Gouyave Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Ltd, which has 70-plus members, said the membership did not vote to be involved with GNExTT. “It doesn’t get my blessing,” he said, adding that the American company “in charge” can “end up with a monopoly.”

The company, One Skip Fisheries Development, through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Fisheries, has “co-designed a business model that transitions fisheries to more sustainable, resilient, and profitable production.” The project has its origins in the Billfish Project, funded by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility.

One Skip founding partner Keith Flett told this newspaper that the Seattle-based company will invest its “own funds” for the $250,000 to $300,000 (US) processing plant in Grenada, the location of which will be determined following the completion of food safety audits. Sites in Grand Mal and Gouyave are under consideration. Rather than construct a new building, an existing building will be renovated and upgraded to meet COVID-19 regulations and other food safety guidelines.

Once the facility is operational, Flett said it will have the potential to return gross annual revenues to Grenada of $1.5 to $2 million (US). He said the company hopes to break ground within weeks and renovations are expected to take three months.

Minister responsible for Fisheries Hon Alvin Da Breo said the GNExTT project was scheduled to begin in March, but was postponed due to the new coronavirus.

“By doing more processing here, we can package and grade the fish before it leaves our shores,” he said, rather than having it graded when it arrives at the export destination.

News of GNExTT and a fish processing plant came as a surprise to Southern Fishermen Association Inc. general manager Johnny Regis. “It’s news to me. Our association is not involved in any capacity,” he said.

A similar response came from president of the Saint Patrick’s Fishermen’s Association Craig Alexander, who said the project may sound promising “but where are the terms? We know nothing about how this would operate. No one asked us,” he told The Grenadian Voice on Tuesday (June 30).

According to the June 29 release, “GNExTT won’t only add relief and stabilization of the current situation presented by COVID-19, it will finance the implementation of value chain improvements and underlying technology that will ensure resilience of the fishery sector into the future.”

The release also states that the company plans to make improvements to private and government facilities for export and will “remain inclusive to all fishers and fisher associations in Grenada.”

Other fishermen, who chose to remain anonymous, said an agreement or understanding with the government does not mean all fishermen and their cooperatives are on board. “How can we be part of this when we don’t know about it?” one asked.

One Skip specialises in fisheries development; and works with investors, non-governmental agencies, foundations, inter-governmental agencies and multilateral banks to implement projects around the world, according to its website. Flett said the demand for traceability in the fishing sector is high.

Traceability makes it possible to track a product from its point of origin and enables public health officials to accurately identify the source of contaminated foods.

As safety protocols and regulations are adjusted to meet the COVID-19 reality, traceability is increasingly a focus across the food supply chain.

One report projected that the food traceability market worldwide will grow by billions of dollars as a result of the pandemic and impending recession.

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