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Sun 28 Jul 2019 04:29 PM

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Dubai-based online platform looks to tackle seafood fraud

Seafood Souq connects international sellers with regional buyers in a bid to tackle mislabelling, high pricing and lack of transparency

Dubai-based online platform looks to tackle seafood fraud
Seafood Souq CEO Sean Dennis.

A Dubai-based online marketplace is looking to tackle seafood fraud, product mislabelling and high pricing by connecting international sellers with regional buyers through a 100 percent traceable supply chain in partnership with Emirates SkyCargo.

The B2B platform called Seafood Souq was launched in June by friends and start-up founders Ramie Murray (Middle East shellfish farm Dibba Bay Oysters), Sean Dennis (US blockchain start-up Loyyal), Denis Konoplev (UK-based AI platform Disperse) and Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi (UAE corporate advisory and investment firm AQ&P and department of government relations for the emirate of Sharjah).

Speaking to Arabian Business, CEO Dennis said a lack of transparency in the regional seafood market is what led to the formation of Seafood Souq.

“[There is a] lack of transparency and information in the market… [The region] very much operates in a closed off market where if you want information, you’re going to have to call up five or six different distributors or suppliers… There’s no set way of necessarily doing things, no set way of communication or medium for payment…

“Difficulties are incumbent in traditional business practices. Different parties in the value chain don’t necessarily speak to each other and information isn’t necessarily passed on. If there’s one bad actor in that value chain, then that affects the end consumer, and no one would be able to pin point the part that went down,” he said.

Users can sign up, browse and list products to the platform for free, though a commission fee will apply when a purchase is made, and could range from as low as zero percent to as high as 12 percent, depending on the type of fish. While the service is currently limited to buyers in the UAE, it is likely to expand to other Gulf countries by the end of the year, according to Dennis.

100% traceability

In order to guarantee 100 percent traceability, Seafood Souq tracks the products throughout the value chain and shares the collected data with buyers.

“Seafood is a highly valuable and highly perishable item… 30-50 percent of seafood could be mislabelled so you think you’re eating tuna - it may or may not be [tuna], likewise with cod or salmon. There’s also the dates; mislabelling all the way throughout that value chain is very dangerous. What we really want to do is provide traceability throughout the value chain.

“We track the entire cold chain using temperature logos the second it leaves the factory from where it was packaged, so you can see if the cold chain was broken at all, or where it went wrong and where we can correct it. Likewise, because you’re buying direct from the supplier, like a Norwegian farm, for example, you’re dealing directly with them through our platform and so all the data and information is available through Seafood Souq,” Dennis added.

A 2016 report by marine conservation non-profit Oceana, which found that seafood fraud was taking place on a global scale, led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to launch the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to track 13 species believed to be at high risk of being fraudulently sold.

“Across the world, our review reveals that seafood mislabelling appears to be motivated primarily by economic gain through intentionally misleading buyers at every level of the seafood supply chain,” the report said at the time.

It was followed by a 2019 Oceana report which found that 20 percent of 449 fish tested in the US were mislabelled, including sea bass, Alaskan halibut and Florida snapper.

Boosting fish stocks, enhancing food security

Seafood Souq’s transparent marketplace also aims to promote sustainable fishing practices.

In May this year, The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, EAD, in partnership with Mariam Hareb Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, released the first batch of economically-important and over-exploited fish species into Abu Dhabi waters.

The fish, which were produced by the Aquaculture Centre and Marine Studies on Abu Al Abyad Island, were released to boost fish stocks and enhance the country's food security.

Fish Farm LLC, a Dubai-based aquaculture business in Jebel Ali, is also growing organic sea bass, hammour and Atlantic salmon in the UAE for the first time. The initiative is supported by Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

According to the Ministry for Food Security, the UAE imports 90 percent of all its food products.

Fish Farm CEO Bader Mubarak told Arabian Business in April: “Ninety-two percent of the fish consumed in the UAE is imported and we aim to address this imbalance by showing how advanced technologies can mitigate the challenges of the natural environment.”

Last year, the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) teamed up with Fish Farm to install 20 artificial caves in Khorfakkan’s Al Badiyah Island in a bid to help replenish fish stocks in the desert country’s waters.

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