Text message info on endangered fish for diners

The Associated Press

South African diners whose environmentalism is as discerning as their palates now can turn to technology to help make the right menu choices.

With 76 per cent of the world's fish overexploited or fished to maximum levels, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative this week launched a text message service that provides information on whether that tender sashimi is from a plentiful or an endangered species.

"Simply send the name of a fish to the number and you will immediately get a message telling you whether to tuck in, think twice or avoid completely," the co-ordinator of the initiative, Jaco Barendse, said Friday. His group is supported by the South African government, the international environmentalist group WWF and others.

The service, known as FishMS, is colour-coded. Green means go ahead and eat, as population numbers are healthy. Orange means it's a species that is legal to sell, but supplies are in danger. Species marked red are illegal to buy or sell in South Africa.

Diners texting from restaurant tables may be surprised to find some of South Africa's best-loved fishes like kingklip, sole and red snapper are on the orange list, while others like galjoen are red.

Barendse said overfishing of kingklip has pushed up demand — and sent the price soaring to 100 rands or $14 US per kilogram from 40 rands or $6 US two years ago.

The service "provides consumers and anyone else working with fish with a handy and extremely cool tool to help choose fish from healthy populations and relieve the pressure on overexploited species," Barendse said. If we don't care now, we may not have the choice we take for granted. There is no ignoring this. We can't assume that there is an endless supply of fish in the sea."

Mary-Anne Sinovich of the Codfather restaurant in Johannesburg is a great supporter of the campaign and stopped buying white steenbras when she learned the fish were off-limits. Now she has incorporated the guidelines into her menus.

"This is a great initiative. We have to do something to protect our fish supplies," she said.

Fish lover Gillian Anstey has already programmed the FishMS number into her cellphone.

"I eat and buy fish a lot and have often wondered whether it could be endangered or not," she said. "Now I can find out."