This post is part of a special National Geographic news series on global water issues.
Not too long ago, if you wanted to know what type of seafood was best for the environment, your tools didn’t get any more high-tech than a wallet card or a fridge magnet. But the fridge magnet doesn’t help much when you’re at the grocery store, and wallet cards are easy to leave behind (just ask me how many times I’ve forgotten mine). Luckily, sustainable seafood watchdogs have kept pace with technology and now, like with almost everything else in our lives, there’s an app for that.
Quite a few, actually.
The Blue Ocean Institute recently launched the free FishPhone for iPhone. The app was developed in conjunction with a sustainable winegrower, so in addition to seafood rankings, the app includes recipes and wine pairings. No iPhone? Blue Ocean is still offering FishPhone through SMS. Just send “FISH SALMON” or “FISH LOBSTER” to 30644 and you’ll get a text message back ranking the fish’s sustainability. (The service is free, but as with all texting, you could be charged standard messaging rates from your carrier.) FishPhone also flags seafood that is known to contain high levels of contaminants like mercury and PCBs. (Get FishPhone, link will open iTunes)
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, which publishes the Seafood Watch guide, has a free iPhone app that lets you access their database without an internet connection. The app uses GPS to determine where you are and what seafood might be available in your area. It also updates every six months to keep the information current. If you have a different brand of smartphone, you can visit the Seafood Watch mobile site at mobile.seafood.com. (Get Seafood Watch, link will open iTunes)
Safe Seafood costs a dollar, which makes it infinitely more expensive than the free alternatives, but it’s the only app that compiles information from ten different seafood rankings to create its list. (The developer of Safe Seafood did not return a request for comment on which ten information sources they used, but we know that two of them are Monterey Bay’s list and the Environmental Defense Fund’s toxicity ratings.) The app also allows you to sort by “best to worst.”
Again, this app costs $1, but the developers donate 10% of all proceeds to the Environmental Defense Fund. (Get Safe Seafood, link will open iTunes)
Why is sustainable seafood so important? Poor management practices can pollute or destroy habitats (like when mangrove forests are destroyed to build shrimp farms, which then release waste and disease into the open water); bad harvest practices can hurt endangered species (like when a trawler or net picks up leatherback turtles instead of the species a fisherman was hoping for), and overfishing can weaken important links in the food chain. According to a World Wildlife Fund report, scientists believe that overfishing bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea would lead to an explosion of the squid population, which could then destroy the sardine population. But beyond that, it’s a good idea to let the bluefin survive–if only because you want your kids to be able to enjoy it every now and then.