It isn’t unusual for Louisiana dishes to come with their own stories, maybe about who came up with the recipes or how they got their names. When those dishes call for seafood, however, some of the main ingredients can now tell stories of their own.
That is because a new program called Gulf Seafood Trace is using technology to attach specific data to seafood catches, from where and when it was caught to recommended ways to prepare it.
“We’re in an information age and we want all the information we can get about the food we eat,” says Malinda Kelley, a project manager for GCR Inc., the New Orleans consulting firm that’s promoting Gulf Seafood Trace.
The new program comes along as Gulf seafood remains under close scrutiny following the 2010 BP oil disaster and also when more reports have surfaced nationwide about misleading packaging on imported seafood. The program is coordinated by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, a coalition representing Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“They’re already doing this in some places, in Alaska and the Northeast, where there’s more money for it,” Kelley says. “The Gulf Coast has been beaten up pretty badly lately, so we wanted to make it available here for the industry.”
Seafood companies that sign up for the program are able to customize what sort of data they want to attach to their seafood, which can travel with that harvest up the supply chain, from the dock to the kitchen.
Supply chain tracking is nothing new for the seafood industry, but Gulf Seafood Trace makes this data more readily accessible and makes it especially relevant to consumers. For instance, a shopper can use a smartphone right in the store to scan a QR code on a package of frozen shrimp from a processor and then using the program to inspect a supply chain that leads from specific fishing areas to a buyer in Grand Isle to a distributor in New Orleans.
“Most of the seafood that people eat in America is imported and it faces much less regulation than (Gulf) seafood,” Kelley says. “If consumers were more informed, they could make better decisions about what they buy and what they eat.”