A San Francisco startup’s tracking system for seafood is helping Chilean fishermen earn more
For decades, José Barrios has made a living pulling flounder and abalone out of the frigid waters off Chile’s central coast using nothing more than nets, an iron hook, and his strong back. Today, the 56-year-old fisherman also taps into satellite networks and the cloud to earn the best possible price for his catch.
Barrios is one of about 250 Chilean fishermen who have signed on with Shellcatch, a San Francisco startup seeking to profit from the growing demand for sustainable seafood. The company hopes its technology will combat the overfishing and fraud that threaten the international seafood trade. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that one out of five fish taken from the ocean is caught illegally, depleting stocks of certain species to levels that imperil their survival. Whether it’s to avoid fines for fishing without permits or going over their quota or simply to boost profits, fishermen often try to pass off one type of fish as another. Oceana, a U.S. nonprofit, ran DNA tests on 1,200 fish samples and found that one-third had been mislabeled, according to a 2013 report. “We think technology in the seafood space can disrupt the way business is being done, which currently involves large amounts of species fraud and illegality,” says Shellcatch founder Alfredo Sfeir. “Technology allows you to know the people behind your fish. That’s how it used to be.”