Our appetite for fish is big. According to WWF, two-third's of the world's fish stocks have been exhausted or are overfished. To counter this, a number of organisations actively build awareness about which species of fish are sustainably farmed and which to avoid. We tested out the Good Fish Guide app to see how it helps consumers make sustainable seafood choices.
What Does the Good Fish Guide Do?
The Good Fish Guide by the Marine Conservation Society is designed with sustainability of fish stocks in mind, and seeks to inform consumers about sustainable (and unsustainable) sources of seafood. It is somewhat tailored to UK consumers, although of course some of the same fish are likely to be available in many other countries too.
How User-friendly Is It?
The Guide uses a traffic-light system (green, yellow and red) to rate fish according to their sustainability level. The ratings are:
- 'Green' means EAT, and is for “Sustainable fish caught or farmed in a way that minimises impact upon the environment. These fish are well managed and not overfished”;
- 'Yellow' means THINK, and is for “Fish vulnerable to overfishing, inadequately managed, showing signs of decline, recovering, or fish that may be associated with environmental concerns”;
- 'Red' means AVOID, and is for “unsustainable fish that are poorly managed or not managed at all, and/or from endangered or depleted stocks. Fish also associated with high or unacceptable environmental impact”
Species of fish are listed in alphabetical order: a green, yellow or red dot appears next to their name, making their rating immediately obvious. A simple design makes the guide easy to navigate.
Clicking on a fish name will open up a window with an image of the fish, its rating and some brief advice. The information, including the image of the chosen fish can be quickly accessed, although adding a fish image before clicking on the chosen name for further information could make the initial list look a little more exciting.
Having said that, with only two clicks away from the necessary information needed to make purchasing decisions on the go (at a restaurant or at a shop), the app is indeed easy and quick to navigate. One further click will also give more detailed information about fisheries, while a separate button will take users to the Good Fish Guide website (users will need to be online for this) where you can search for a whole host of information, such as a list of fish to avoid, or fish to eat, plus detailed information about species biology, breeding times, migration patterns, capture information, and alternatives.
The website is however best used with a little more time at hand, preferably a decently-sized screen to avoid over-scrolling, and of course an internet connection.
Does the Information Fit to Your Region?
Although designed with UK consumers in mind, fish and fishing regions of the world are rated in this app. The latter are also rated according to a red to green system, but on a stretched out 'one to five rating' (an additional shade of yellow and red are also used here) to give some extra detail.
Does It Offer Suggestions for Sustainable Alternatives?
Sustainable alternatives are not explicitly available through the app, but rather through a few additional clicks on the FishOnline.org website, a search process which may put people off, particularly if the internet connection is playing up. On the other hand, while the app does not spell out the alternative to a particular fish species directly, the rating given to fish makes it clear what the sustainable alternative would be – that is, simply find a fish rated green, rather than red or yellow.
I decided to use the app to check on the fish regularly featured on my brother's restaurant menu: salmon, Farmed/Norway - Salmon Salar; and sea bass, Farmed/Italy - Dicentrarchus Labrax.
I was a little disappointed to find out that they both get a Think! rating, meaning that they should only be eaten very rarely, to avoid the environmental damage arising from open pen farming, such as pollution, escape and disease transmission, although different fisheries and production methods may have less of an environmental impact. Indeed for salmon, a suggested safe alternative mentioned is farmed Alaskan Salmon, all of which is certified by the MSC.
A suggested more sustainable production method for the sea bass would be the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS), such as those used in France. These are essentially land-based tanks with no interaction with the surrounding environment and therefore pose no risk of pollution/escapes or disease transmission.
All in all, it put me off ordering those fish, although on a good note I was able to inform my brother on the sustainability issues associated with the fish on his restaurant menu, and to get him thinking about alternatives.
Is the Content Up-to-date?
Content is as up to date as I would expect it to be for data so complex, and labourious to collect, as that pertaining to global fish stocks. The current edition was released in September 2015, and yearly updates would be more than adequate for such an app, in my view. I believe that the app provides the right level of information to enable consumers to quickly make informed decisions. For more detailed information, their website is only one extra click away.
Is Their Advice Trustworthy?
From a transparency angle, it is clear that the app information comes from The Marine Conservation Society, a well established and trustworthy UK charity organisation concerned with seas, shores and wildlife, and seeking to protect marine life, reduce pollution and promote sustainability. Links to the Marine Conservation Society's website and contact details are provided in the app.
Did the App Update Itself Often?
In terms of updates, users can choose to manually update the app themselves by visiting the app store, or they can provide an email address to which notifications of updates are then sent. To avoid the risk of my phone automatically downloading updates (and the risk of using up all my phone's limited storage space), and to avoid also the possibility of being inundated by notifications in my inbox, I opted for the former. Since I downloaded the app no updates have been released.
Update 20.09.2016: MCS provided some further insight via email as to how updates work: when an internet connection is available, the app checks data updates each time the app is opened. This keeps data current (and data loads to a minimum) and users do not need to update the app itself. When no internet connection is available, the app will display data that is already there.
Would You Recommend This App?
The Good Fish Guide is a no-frills app which quickly and easily delivers important information to users about fish stock sustainability, or lack thereof. Its somewhat sombre look is in my view counteracted by its content quality, quantity and navigation ease. For those on the go looking for sustainably fished or farmed fish, this is definitely a good app to have.
You can download the app for Android or iOS from the Good Fish Guide website.
This article is part of our RESET Special on sustainable consumption. You can find all the articles in the series here.