Fishazam Offers a Clever Solution for Misrepresented Seafood
by Debbie Kay
If you’ve ever used the Shazam app, you understand how great it is being able to use your phone to discover the name of a new song, or one of those songs you never knew the name of. The algorithm that makes Shazam work is now being repurposed, however, and could help prevent overfishing and poaching. This new app, Fishazam, could help regulators enforce easily circumvented rules, bringing benefits to fish and fishermen everywhere.
According to the ocean protection group Oceana, DNA tests of commercially sold seafood show as much as 30 percent of all seafood is intentionally mislabeled. Alaskan caught pollock and cod is shipped to China and Japan, processed into things like fish sticks and breaded fillets, and returned to the US for sale. Unfortunately, in some cases, a large amount of farm-raised tilapia, bycatch, or illegally poached fish are mixed in. The mark-up gets even higher when common species are sold as high dollar fish like halibut.
What is Fishazam?
Fishazam is a new app developed to help curb seafood mislabeling. It combines a portable spectrometer that runs infrared waves through a fillet and gives a “signature”. This attaches to your phone, which uses the same algorithm created by the designers of Shazam to locate the most likely fish species with that signature. This gives an inspector in a food processing facility the ability to check that a species is being correctly labeled. Even if every fish species is not identified, it can still help to show that all fish in a given batch are the same species.
Why Does this Matter?
For anglers, this can make a big difference. If you can’t game the system, it takes some of the profits away from bycatch and fishing for endangered species. For anglers, better management means more open fishing areas and longer seasons. This is especially true for species that are open for recreational fishing but are no longer in populations high enough to support commercial fishing, like many of the Caribbean reef species. If there is no incentive to illegally take them as bycatch, more of them will be left to catch on your next deep-sea fishing trip.
Many other applications of Fishazam are possible if the app becomes more widely available. The spectrometer is quick and harmless, and it may be possible to check live fish as well as fillets. This could allow scientists to better identify and remove hybrids in streams where invasive species (like brown trout or hatchery rainbows) are hybridizing with native populations. It may also be possible to tell a legally catchable hatchery salmon from a wild one, and double check at boat launches that anglers are releasing wild stock.