I am glad to write about India and write about two of the biggest seafood industries in the world where I have had a lot of experience in different positions. I have to go back to 2008, when I just finished my first year of the Master in Food Science and Technology in a University program between Ghent University and Leuven University. I remember I applied to several food companies in Europe, and as a result, I was invited to two interviews with two tuna companies. I got an agreement with a Tuna company based in the Netherlands, that operated in India by that time.
I was assigned as the project manager for running two tuna factories: a frozen whole round factory and frozen tuna loins factory. The objectives were to increase the level of compliance regarding quality, food safety and European legislation requirement. The main goal was to comply with these requirements for the Tuna Thai market and the Spanish tuna market.
In July 2009, I moved to live in Port Kochin a lovely and very famous seafood port in the west coast of India, the facility was located nearby the unloading port in Kochin. The second tuna facility was located in the city of Madras (Chennai). Visiting unloading fishermen villages was part of the project and gave me the opportunity to learn and see how locals handle tuna fish in different beaches and small tuna landing sites in both east and west coasts from Kochin to Kanykumari, and from Kanykumari to Madras.
With a local team of Master graduated from food safety and technology supervisors and managers, we started this project as a team. The sourcing and quality of the tuna were the main risks to be assessed. Initially, at the first stage, we worked with several tuna fishing vessels with a small capacity between 2000 kg to 5000 kg. Fishermen spent between 2 – 3 weeks in a fishing trip, bringing back the storage full of tuna most of the time. By history, these tuna landings have been sold in the local market, where the quality and the food safety requirements were very low or inexistent. After identifying several risks and hazards onboard, I provided trainings regarding control of the fishing operation, the fish handle onboard, temperature & time control, icing management, organoleptic & sensorial evaluation, hygiene requirements, and traceability onboard.
In order to increase the level of knowledge of this initial group of fishermen, a local responsible manager was selected to develop worksheets, procedures and manuals in order to ensure a management system to support the fishermen operation creating a traceability system from boat to shipment. I have to mention that was not easy to convince fishermen about the controls that they had to implement onboard. After some trails, we got what we wanted as raw material. A sensorial and organoleptic score’s assessment was developed per boat, per landing that help us to motivate fishermen in a healthy competition among them to reach our goals, which was a good quality of tuna with low levels of histamine concentration and microbiological results that complies with international and market regulations.
The second stage was to increase the compliance level of the processing factory. Since India was a country without a developed tuna industry and knowledge, I did not find any local technical support for laboratory analysis (histamine), consequently I had to go back to my knowledge and experience that I got as a quality chief in a fresh and frozen fish facility in Ecuador back in 1999 and review my notes when I was a global quality assurance auditor of trimarine. We set up the first laboratory with a fluorometer technic in India, I trained the Tuna facility staff in risk analysis, organoleptic and sensorial evaluation, decomposition process, sampling size per batch or landing, sampling, sample preparation for the fluorometer, chemical preparation, coding and wrote procedures and manual for the laboratory. After the successful fluorometer laboratory implementation and the first tests were running well, we contacted a Food authority from Thailand and brought it to our facility in Port Kochin in order to validate the entire process that was implemented. An audit and a validation process were carried out during three days. After the approval, we were officially and effectively controlling histamine concentration in tuna raw material and processed tuna complying with international regulations. A microbiological laboratory was also implemented at the same time. The first containers with tuna were shipped out to Spain and Thailand, and the project objectives and goals were achieved.
I started my carrier as responsible of a shrimp farm 120 Ha in the North of the province of Manabi, it was my first job and it was a learning experience in terms of shrimp farm management. Several duties were carried out daily, water parameters control, water exchange management, fertilization program, health control, medication of the shrimp, preparation for harvest and post harvest, evaluation of larvae, larvae acclimatization for stocking, biomass control, densities, quality control, ground control after harvest, etc. El Ojal is the farm name, beyond the 120 Ha of shrimp ponds located next to the estuarine of Cojimies, there was around 300 Ha of forest surrounded by mountains and more than 3000 cows around. It was a lovely place for living and working, usually on weekends I spent my time milking cows or riding a horse when we did not have any duty at the shrimp farm. I remember, it was not easy to reach the farm at that time. We had to go by car to Pedernales city and wait that the tide goes down, cross the long beach full of coconut palms and reach Cojimies, which is a fishermen village in the North of Manabi. From there we waited for a high tide to take a speedboat and reach the shrimp farm after 20 minutes in the river. The farm was surrounded by wild life, birds, crustaceans, fishes, mammals, mountains and an endless summer weather.
Since 2014, I started to provide my professional services to the accreditation body appointed by Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). The ASC set up a standard that recognize and aware the responsible management of an aquaculture operation, minimizing the negative impact to the ecosystem and providing decent workers and working conditions. This is the highest standard set up for aquaculture farm management in a sustainable and responsible manner, the FAO recommend ASC in their report from 2016 as a standard to be followed and implemented in order to demonstrate the responsible management of a farm operation.
As a Lead assessor I carry out witness assessments and compliance assessments to evaluate certification bodies performance regarding the ASC standard for different species that includes: Shrimp, Tilapia, Trout fish, Salmon, Oysters and Seriola. I have carried out more than 150 assessments so far and I have to say each new assessment is a new learning experience.
Now back to India, which is a very important shrimp producer globally I was assigned to assess two big shrimp operations located in the District of Odisha. The main objectives of the trip were assessing the implementation of the 7 principles within the farm, relationship with local communities, worker & working conditions and the impact to the environment. It is a complex and complete standard, which provide a good picture, after implementing it, and assessing it. This demonstrates how the farm management is engaged with the sustainability of the resource and social responsibility. The standard also assess the auditor competence level. They shall be competent, have experience in the aquaculture field, highly qualified with auditor’s training courses and speak fluently at least English and appropriately apply the combination of these skills.
I spent almost a week in two shrimp farms and it was really good to observe the performance of the audit team and the shrimp farm operation.