Small is beautiful? New tools for fish lovers

A mentor of mine once said that there are no silver-bullet solutions for the major environmental challenges of our day. That is, the solutions will be both global and local, oriented toward both large-scale policies and small-scale lifestyle changes.

At the small-scale end of things, two recent campaigns hope to make a difference by enlisting people around the world to make small but effective changes in the seafood they eat. They hope that millions or billions of people making these changes will collectively add up to a lot.

Jason Kelly, an Internet-technology professional turned children’s book author and marine-wildlife champion, who now travels the world educating kids about the depletion of wild fish stocks, has launched a No Fish in My Dish campaign encouraging people to avoid fish five days a week. This recommendation comes in stark contrast to recent advice from health organizations for Americans to eat fish three or more days a week to reduce their risk of heart disease and improve neurological function. If widely adopted, Kelly’s “no fish” measure would have obvious benefits for endangered fish populations. But it would also deal an abrupt blow to the entire seafood supply chain, from small fishing communities to large seafood processors, not to mention seafood lovers.

The idea is valiant and egalitarian, in part because it targets Americans, Europeans, and Japanese—populations that eat far more seafood than the average world citizen. The campaign harkens back to the days when Christians abstained from meat most days (albeit in favor of fish), and to wartime rationing of items like meat and butter.

Still, the campaign lacks nuance because it doesn’t say much about which fish are “ok” to eat the rest of the week. (For instance, in terms of impacts on global seafood supplies, avoiding tuna is a much bigger deal than avoiding farmed mussels.) For that advice, consumers should turn to the Blue Ocean Institute, which just launched FishPhone, the nation’s first sustainable seafood text-messaging service, and www.fishphone.org, a mobile phone-formatted Web page. Designed to provide easy navigation and download capability for environmentally conscious and tech-savvy seafood eaters, the service is an extension of Blue Ocean’s pioneering “good-fish, bad-fish” watch cards for people to bring to the grocery store and restaurants.

Cell phone- or BlackBerry-toting restaurant patrons, supermarket shoppers, and chefs can text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question, and within seconds FishPhone will text back with Blue Ocean’s assessment on any of over 90 species and alternative choices for fish with significant environmental concerns. The Institute does note that standard text-messaging rates still apply—but hopefully users who are willing to pay more for better fish won’t mind the slightly higher phone bills.