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February 03, 2009

Dining on Seafood? Reach for the FishPhone First

Rows of tuna at Tokyo's
Tsukiji fish market.

Photo: Wikipedia

by Kevin Doyle

Actor Jeremy Piven's recent sudden departure from his role in the Broadway production of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow was due (at least according to his publicist) to mercury poisoning occasioned by a few too many plates of sushi. Alas, the flurry of publicity surrounding the event (and Mr. Mamet's wicked and widely quoted observation that Piven was leaving the show to "pursue a career as a thermometer") has done nothing to slow the rising global consumption of seafood. In fact, stocks of bigeye and yellowfin tuna have become so depleted that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns that "massive fishing fleets are on a path to completely wipe out Pacific tuna populations." Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks are also at dangerously low levels, according to the WWF.

I admit that I do enjoy tucking in to a plate of sushi now and then, but the thought of armadas of industrial fishing vessels scooping up countless tons of tuna and driving them nearer extinction does dampen my appetite.

I'm not prepared to swear off sushi yet, but from now on I'm going to use the Blue Ocean Institute's FishPhone text messaging service to make sure my choices are informed before I order seafood in a restaurant or fish market. Here's how it works: Say you're looking over a menu and the Chilean sea bass looks appealing. If you'd like to know whether or not it's a sustainable choice, text the message "fish" followed by the name of the species in question (in this case, Chilean sea bass) to 30644. In seconds, you'll receive a reply letting you know that Chilean sea bass is being depleted by illegal and unregulated fishing and that it may contain harmful mercury or PCBs. Not quite so appealing, after all. Tilapia, on the other hand, gets a green light in every regard. The Blue Ocean Institute's Web site is a great resource for information on the health of the world's seas and their inhabitants and how to consume seafood in a way that won't harm the planet. Best of all, the information is based on solid science and presented in an evenhanded way intended to inform rather than to shame. Bon appétit!

Kevin Doyle is the News Editor for Condé Nast Traveler.

Further reading:
* WWF to help fund creation of Aquaculture Stewardship Council
* PBS's "Empty Oceans, Empty Nets" series explores the marine fisheries crisis and the pioneering efforts to restore our oceans
* Blessings have arrived with Piven's departure
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right


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