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Web posted Sunday, September 3, 2006

Tracking system lets customers trace their fish from boat to plate

By Margaret Bauman
Alaska Journal of Commerce

It's no fish story.

Customers of a gourmet grocery in upscale Sarasota, Fla., can now track their purchases of wild salmon right back to the harvester in the icy waters of Alaska.

It's all part of a quality assurance program devised by the Center for Alaskan Seafood Quality Assurance in Anchorage and Snug Harbor Seafoods, in Kenai, to elevate the value of sockeye salmon.

The cost of tracking is actually very low, and the market reaction has been positive, said Hugh Bertmaring, business manager for AQS. "The consumer is thrilled because they know it is Alaska salmon for real," he said.

The pilot project, for sockeye salmon sold at Morton's Gourmet Market in Sarasota, is the combined effort of AQS, Snug Harbor Seafoods and ScoringAg. ScoringAg, also based in Sarasota, provides a Web-based, real-time, 24/7 database for a complete point-to-point trace back for all products to retail stores, supermarkets and restaurants.

ScoringAg trace-back records detail the product's journey from the fishing grounds, showing the fishermen and their boats, throughout all stages of handling and processing. All inspections, certifications, packing and transportation are recorded in real-time, minute-by-minute in ScoringAg's database.

An example is the sockeye salmon catch harvested by Drew Sparlin. Delivered by FedEx, Sparlin's fish were accepted by Todd Morton at Morton's Market in Sarasota in 23 hours, 31 minutes and 11 seconds after harvest. All steps were documented in the ScoringAg database, with the information contained in a barcode label. The trace-back code can be read with a scanner in the store or on any computer with an Internet connection by entering the trace-back code in the search function of the firm's database.

ScoringAg records satisfy the US COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) law and Food and Drug Administration 24-hour trace-back. These requirements were mandated by the FDA through the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, as well as two European Union directives, and apply to all facilities wherever food commodities and fish and shellfish are received, cleaned, stored, blended, processed and reshipped, and all associated records.

AQS spokesman Hugh Bertmaring said while the system is technologically driven, it's people along the supply chain that make it work. "The system depends on people who work with this catch down the line to input data," he said. "The harvester creates a record and hands it over to the processor. The processor hands it over to the retailer, and with every step in the chain of custody, people input data online in real-time. So you have proof, a timeline. All the information is visible."

Margaret Bauman can be reached at margie.bauman@alaskajournal.com.


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2006 The Alaska Journal of Commerce and Morris Communications Corp.