- The fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest is a dynamic and highly competitive industry that must constantly respond to rapidly changing resource, regulatory and market forces. These forces have already had a significant impact on our fisheries and will continue to do so as we learn more about the biology and ecology of harvested species, and how this information can be used to effectively manage our fisheries. In addition, market forces, both here and abroad, including the push by some governments to improve food safety and consumer confidence, are also having an impact on the U.S. seafood industry. In an attempt to address these issues, the European Union (E.U.) recently enacted traceability legislation, now mandatory for seafood, which will require all U.S. businesses exporting to the E.U. to provide adequate traceability documentation on their products. This legislation will have an impact on many U.S. fisheries, including the troll-caught albacore fishery in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which, after losing its traditional market, has recently relied heavily on exporting. Although the term traceability has been around for some time it is relatively new to the U.S. food industry and many in the seafood sector, who now face the possibility of mandatory traceability, have not yet considered all its implications.
Another issue facing the Eastern Pacific albacore fishery is that of product quality. Traditionally, this fishery has concentrated on producing albacore for the high-volume cannery market, which does not require the same stringent quality control standards as other market sectors. Albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), members of the Scrombroid family, are capable of thermoregulation and can exhibit internal temperatures of more than 15º C above ambient seawater. High internal temperatures, if sustained, and residual blood content can stimulate bacterial growth, which can eventually lead to scrombroid poisoning in humans. This makes the time immediately after landing critical in attaining and preserving important quality traits. In order to develop new markets for Eastern Pacific troll-caught albacore, quality needs to be improved and/or maintained within the industry at a sufficient level to supply market demands. This would require at least a portion of the industry to implement a set of onboard handling procedures designed to preserve and maintain quality. Although guidelines for handling albacore are available there is no industry “standard” for producing high quality products and only limited research presently exists into preserving quality traits of albacore onboard a vessel.
The first paper in this thesis explores the concepts of traceability, current traceability legislation, and the potential applications of traceability systems to improve quality and marketing of U.S. seafood products. The second paper evaluates different onboard bleeding and handling techniques, which can affect product quality, currently used in the albacore industry and their ability to remove blood from the muscle tissues. Thirty-two different combinations of handling techniques and their affect on residual blood content were investigated by examining blood concentrations within the muscle tissue, using spectrophotometry methods, and cutaneous blood vessel coverage, by computer-aided digital color analysis. The results of the statistical analysis indicate that three of the five factors investigated had some influence on residual blood content.
The third paper in this thesis evaluates the design and development of a computer-based onboard traceability system with integrated barcode technology, capable of efficiently recording capture and handling data. Two system trials were conducted, during normal fishing operations, where a total of 450 albacore tuna were successfully entered into the traceability database through the use of the Fishery Data Interface application. Documentation supplied by this system, which includes both spatial and temporal data, as well as information on product activities, will enable businesses to meet existing traceability requirements while also providing a new tool for the marketing of seafood products produced in the United States.