These Indian Calendars Show You How to Buy Fish Sustainably

Eco-friendly seafood guides for your next trip to the market
A fisherwoman in Morjim, Goa
A fisherwoman in Morjim, Goa

When Mahasweta Bose goes to the fish market, she has more than one curry in mind. Along with the Bangladeshi moroula maach er muitha, where tiny Indian carplet float in a spicy curry, she&rsquos also got her eyes on hilsa and rohu. The former would once crop up in delightful numbers during the monsoons&mdasha three-kilo-star that you&rsquod have to tug home. The latter, fried until crunchy, with salt and turmeric, was a great snack with beer. But when she visits markets today, the apathy leaves a bad taste in her mouth. In a bid to make the best of a depleting supply, fishmongers have been selling juvenile fish for the past few years&mdasha pattern that is completely unsustainable.

The story doesn&rsquot end at Mrs Bose&rsquos local market in Jadavpur. Across India&rsquos east and west coasts, marine life face varied struggles. Large dams block sea fish from swimming upstream to spawn in rivers, plus reduce freshwater at deltas. Overeating leads to overfishing, as trawlers and fishermen spend more time at sea to increase their output, often at the risk of other species who become collateral damage as bycatch. Their natural migration patterns are also interrupted. Smaller mesh-size nets are now illegally used to increase the catch, which trap juvenile fish. It&rsquos a dangerous game that has no immediate fix on the supplier&rsquos end, which is why consumers must pay more attention to their buying habits. 

A handful of Indian biologists and conservationists realised this some time ago, and created two eco-friendly seafood guides to help generate public awareness. Both these fish calendars help you make buying decisions keeping in mind a species&rsquo natural breeding period, and present plenty of alternative options.

The first is InSeason Fish, which informs users of several fish that are safe to eat during a given month. It&rsquos got a lot of names you might not have heard of, but that makes the discovery (and recipes) more exciting. The calendar caters to both the east and west coasts, and lists local names for each. For example, the west&rsquos silver pomfret, found at every other Goan shack, is velutha avoli in Malayalam, manji in Kannada, vichuda in Gujarati and paplet in Marathi. The interface is simple and clean, and offers over 20 fish options every month. You can toggle between &lsquosafe&rsquo and &lsquoavoid&rsquo, and also note the recommended size for each species.The calendar is the brainchild of marine geographer Divya Karnad, wildlife biologist Chaitanya Krishna, creative head Anil Adireddi and filmmaker Sara. 

Know Your Fish&rsquos calendar currently caters exclusively to India&rsquos west coast, but judging by a cursory look, it&rsquos a lot more detailed. Its species calendars remind us of vintage biology charts from school, and might work best if printed out and tacked to a wall. The website lists monthly PDFs of species that are safe to eat, as well as larger webpages sorted alphabetically. Click on each name, and you&rsquoll also find a vulnerability scale, biological information, the months to avoid, and so on. A small, downloadable PDF at the bottom of the site maps out information on popular buys. The initiative was started by Pooja Rathod, Mayuresh Gangal and Chetana Purushottam, who are alumni from the Post-Graduate Programme in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at WCS-India and the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

Both these calendars are a great way to do your bit towards sustainable consumption. We think they might also bring back the charm of taking your kid to the market by making an activity out of it&mdashyou stroll around observing gills, eyes and general freshness, while your child reads out what to buy and what to avoid. Set an example, and things should go swimmingly.

Check out InSeason Fish&rsquos official website for in-depth lists of fish to buy and avoid every month. You can also subscribe to Know Your Fish&rsquos SMS service for free monthly recommendations. 

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