After a couple weeks talking with fishers and fish houses in Roatán and Guanaja, I headed to the mainland to interview people from the larger fish houses ("packers"), fisher associations and NGOs working in the lobster industry. Unlike the Islands where a lot of the fishers use wooden traps to catch lobster, boats out of La Ceiba mostly rely on scuba divers to collect lobster from the fishing grounds. It is also home to many of the larger packers, who process the lobster and repackage it before exporting it to buyers in the United States.
While in La Ceiba, my field assistant, Sara, and I were also invited to a meeting led by the Servicio Nacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (SENASA), the primary government department in charge of food safety and sanitation in Honduras. This meeting focused on improving traceability in the lobster supply chain, and attendees included fishers, boat captains, owners and managers of the fish packing houses, other government staff and NGO representatives. During the meeting, we discussed the importance of traceability and the proposed changes to the current system within the fishery. Up until now, system-wide traceability in the fishery was virtually non-existent. Each fish house maintained thier own records on which fishers the lobster was bought from and who it was sold to in the US, but a national, standardised transparent system was lacking - making it difficult to trace products with food safety or other issues. The new system being proposed and piloted by SENASA in the lobster industry changes this by first registering each fisher by their licence number, registering each fish house and building a system where at each exchange point, this information is added to the product allowing it to be tracked from the sea to someone's plate.
While initially met with some skepticism from the attendees, the presenter did a great job of communicating that traceability and this type of program is not asking for those involved to suddenly present more information - but instead to help them streamline their processes and provide better information, for example by standardising the way each fish house reports and tracks their products. Additionally, implementing traceability at this level ensures that they meet international trade requirements imposed by many of their main or potential markets, including the United States and the European Union.
The plan was to pilot this new traceability program during the 2017/18 lobster season and eventually roll it out to include other seafood and agriculture exports.