From catch to kitchen: Entrepreneurs reel in data on seafood supply chain
On any given day you might find Robert Kirstiuk at the docks on the west coast, visiting with fish harvesters to check out their catch of the day.
Kirstiuk is not a chef or an inspector. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Coastline Market Inc. in Vancouver, one of a growing number of startups set on tackling supply-chain challenges in the seafood industry.
The industry has long been challenged when it comes to chain of custody, particularly relating to products from outside Canada’s borders, he explains. Mislabelling of products and underweighting, among other practices, have created a need for more scrutiny than ever. “Chain of custody is incredibly important,” he says.
Coastline Market’s cloud-based service is designed to help simplify that chain by allowing commercial harvesters to connect directly with restaurants and other businesses.
From a fishing family in New Brunswick, the 23-year-old Kirstiuk developed his prototype at hackathons. With funding from NEXT Canada, he moved to Vancouver to achieve his ultimate goal of creating a “democratized” marketplace for commercial seafood by eliminating links in an extremely complex supply chain.
Kirstiuk is already working with 35 active harvesters in four countries, all of whom are required to be transparent in terms of how the fish is caught and meeting legal quota guidelines, he says.
Valerie Robitaille and her brother François are two of four co-founders of XpertSea in Quebec City. They started the company in 2015 with the goal of developing a cloud-based product for monitoring quality in the aquaculture system. They were part of the Real Ventures’ FounderFuel program, from which they received early funding.
Since officially launching in 2016, their technology is now used in 150 aquaculture facilities around the world. The system takes measurement data that is logged into a farm management system. As it evolves, they continue to leverage machine learning and AI to help producers make better decisions about harvesting and health management.
Robitaille says the data will also help governments and regulators push more data-driven practices at the farm level to ensure sustainability. “Getting farms to share data brings traceability into the equation,” she says.
That’s important, since one of the big challenges in aquaculture has been lack of reliable data. “A lot of monitoring is done visually or manually,” she explains. “Now core information can keep moving through the value chain and provides experts with a solid foundation of accurate, reliable information.”
Technology for the seafood sector has been a long time coming, she adds. “There has been a big push in agriculture, and a lot of startups are in agtech. Aquatech is now catching up.”
One of those catching up is Halifax-based Sedna, operating out of COVE (Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship). The company’s solution provides traceability and real-time condition monitoring for “catch to plate” visibility and accountability. Having grown up in the fishing industry, CEO Sheamus MacDonald says he has always been interested in practices, policies and procedures.
Sedna evolved from a brainstorming session with a former roommate and now co-founder Aleksandr Staben. “We realized that the one thing that was so important is traceability. Consumers are more educated and aware of the products they are purchasing. There’s a lot of illegal fishing and corrupt products in the world that can jeopardize the sustainability of the industry. It has to be mitigated.”
As part of its efforts, Sedna has been working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as the University of Guelph.
There’s a strong interest on the part of industry in this type of innovation, says Daniel Mombourquette, fisheries consultant with TriNav Fisheries Consultants Inc. in Dartmouth. “There is so much greenwashing and misinformation going on throughout the supply chain, from distribution and wholesaling to retail and consumption. If (these startups) can get the recipe right, they can make money and improve environmental stewardship. It’s could be a win-win-win all around.”
Glen Feltmate at TriNav in Moncton says the industry has learned important lessons following the past moratorium on cod fishing. “Since then we have had to get on the bandwagon and control what we are doing and learn how to manage and fish it properly.”
Traceability is an important aspect of government regulations, Feltmate notes. “But it’s all paperwork and it’s expensive to manage. We’re getting to the point (with technology) where we can trace loads back to the harvester.”
As Mombourquette notes, “Where Sedna and others come in is that they take the guesswork out of the process. What they are doing is innovative … and much needed for sure.”