Sustainable Catch of the Day on Your Phone

The wireless gadgetry that I love to hate (I refer to Mister MA's BlackBerry as his "girlfriend.") has just earned its way back into my good graces. Remember when I was lamenting just a few weeks ago about what a pain it's become to be a seafood shopper? You practically need a degree in marine biology to decipher (and remember) the constantly changing health and eco advisories for all of your favorite fish, a daunting task when all you want to do is grill up some salmon steaks and call it a day.

Friend of the Sea's eco-update on cod, via SMS. (Kim O'Donnel)

But if you own a cell phone (I think most of us do) or a PDA "girlfriend," your seafood counter confusion may soon be a thing of the past. For basic cell phone users, getting the 411 on tonight's shrimp can be easy as sending a text message.

Last March, Friend of the Sea, a U.K.-based nonprofit focusing on certification and marketing of sustainable seafood, launched a text-message service offering environmental updates (i.e. is it overfished, how is fished?) on popular marine species.

Later this year, the seafood text buzz crossed to the other side of the Atlantic, where East Norwich, N.Y.-based Blue Ocean Institute launched Fish Phone. In addition to eco updates, Fish Phone text messages offer species-relevant health advisories on mercury, PCBs and dioxins.

Those of you with Web-enabled phones and PDAs have even more options. Blue Ocean has created a mobile version of its online seafood guide, as has Monterey Bay Aquarium and Environmental Defense, with its "Seafood Selector To-Go."

Unlike the others, Environmental Defense's mobile guide includes nutritional information plus recipes for its "eco-best" choices, a cool feature while you're in the supermarket.

But back to those fishy text messages. Here's how to get the 411:

For Friend of the Sea (FotS), type: fish (space) [species name] and send to mobile number 90430.

For Fish Phone, send your text message (exactly the same as with FotS) to mobile number 30644.

And here's what happened when I got my fingers walking:

The response from both services was immediate, flooding my inbox within seconds. So cool!

For shrimp, FotC types: "Conservation concerns as it is fished with Bottom trawlers with seabed impact. Best is fished with cages in North America East Coast."

Over at Fish Phone, the word is: "Imported (RED) significant environmental concerns; Gulf of Mex, (YELLOW) some env. Concerns; US and Canada northern, pink or farmed (GREEN) few env. Concerns." (The red, yellow and green references are traffic-light comparable.)

When it comes to salmon, F0tS says: "Alaska salmon is Good choice. Atlantic salmon overexploited. Organic farmed is good choice (" And according to Fish Phone, here's what you need to know: "Farmed (RED); Health Advisory: PCBs, dioxins and pesticides; wild US West Coast (YELLOW); Wild Alaska (GREEN), MSC Certified."

Swordfish is a mixed bag according to FotS: "Status varies. Harpoon, handline and longline-caught in US and Canada is good choice. Overexploited in Indian Ocean. Avoid longline caught." From Fish Phone: "Atlantic and Mediterranean caught (GREEN), Pacific caught (YELLOW). Health Advisory: High Mercury."

My advice? Text both services to get a more complete profile. You'll have the info in less time than it takes to open a can of tuna.

Curious and intrigued? Please go fishing and let me know what you think of any or all of these services. I'm eager to get your feedback.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 27, 2008; 7:55 AM ET Food on the Web , Seafood , Sustainability
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This rocks. I have considered these texting svcs but usually like to carry the Monterey Bay Aquarium wallet card bz it addresses both sustainability and health concerns (ie mercury + pcbs for my small children). Also, I am old and cheap. Texting?! But I will try both as my mind is a sieve and I agree, the fish case is paralyzing. Great post.

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | March 27, 2008 8:23 AM

Wow! So cool. Now I can shop with confidence. I asked FOtS for the 411 on cod, and in a few seconds was texted that organinc farmed Atlantic cod is a best choice. Also, Pacific cod that is not trawled is a good choice. And now I know to avoid Atlantic cod, as it is depleted and trawled.

Posted by: JeninDC | March 27, 2008 12:03 PM

is there a charge to text these services?

Posted by: ny | March 27, 2008 9:29 PM

there is no official organic certification for fish

Posted by: Ed Bruske | March 28, 2008 12:09 AM

To Ed Bruske: Wrong - or let's say: it's a typically north-american statement. In the rest of the world, we know several strong organic labels for farmed fish, and we do so for years. Time to follow up, USA!

Posted by: Heinzpeter Studer | March 28, 2008 6:08 AM

Another one to Ed Bruske: And if you don't trust eco labels with fish, take Friend of the Sea which is the only certification scheme for wild fish and farmed one at the same time.

Posted by: Heinzpeter Studer | March 28, 2008 6:16 AM

Ed, you make a good point: In the US there is no official organic certification for farmed fish. The reference above for farmed salmon is a UK fishery -- and that's because FotS is a U.K. based organization.
NY: Other than your standard text message fees, the cost of these services are free.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 28, 2008 7:19 AM

Very useful information Kim, for those of who only eat fish but no meat or chicken (note: I DO NOT call myself vegetarian, because if you eat fish, you simply are not!) Most interesting to me, was the advisory on swordfish, which I have not eaten in years because of the high mercury content; very good to know that some hand-caught US and Canadian swordfish is OK to eat!

Posted by: Spring Rain | March 28, 2008 8:38 AM

Love it, love it, love it! So cool that you wrote about this, Kim!

Posted by: Courtney | March 28, 2008 9:42 AM

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