Scan here for sustainable sushi

| August 1, 2013 | 2 Comments

With mislabeled seafood a nationwide concern, the folks at Harney Sushi wanted to get the message out: not only is their fish exactly what the menu says it is, but it comes from sustainable sources. Scannable QR codes seemed like a solution, but, as manager Carmina Katigbak put it, “You see QR codes all over the place. Everyone ignores them.”

sushi chef slicing fresh tuna

With some fisheries severely depleted, a San Diego sushi restaurant is using QR codes to help ease the public’s fears about sustainability. From Bill Hails.

Sustainability has always been a priority for the San Diego restaurant, which has two branches in the Pacific coast city. Their website devotes an entire page to “Sustainable Sushi,” which tells where they source each species and what its fishery sustainability status is.

Harney Sushi’s commitment to good stewardship of the seas is hardly the industry norm. A two-year study released in last February by the international conservation group Oceana found that 44 percent of fish sold in 674 venues around the U.S. were mislabeled—findings that were based on DNA testing of purchased samples. And sushi restaurants had a higher rate of mislabeling—74 percent—than either grocery stores or other restaurants.)

At Harney Sushi, the team wanted to let customers know where they—and the fish they serve— are coming from.  Co-owner Dustin Summerville had an idea, Katigbak recalled in an interview: Why not put the QR-coded labels right on the fish? “Putting it on the sushi just as you’re about to eat it gets people’s attention,” she said.

discarded nets on the beach

With more unethical dealers falsifying the fish they sell, QR codes can help reassure diners that what they’re getting is what they asked for. From echiner1.

The restaurant team came up with “edible” thumbnail sized QR-code labels made of soy paper and printed with water-based ink. A tech consultant creates the codes, and the restaurant staff prints the labels in-house on large sheets of the soy paper and cuts them as needed. The label is placed right on top of a piece of sushi before it goes to the customer.

“At first the QR codes led to the NOAA website,” said Katigbak, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s online seafood guide. In July, the restaurant started serving up its first species-specific QR code, for its popular albacore tuna. The albacore QR label tells where Harney Sushi sources its fish and links to videos of the fishermen who catch it. The tag also tells how the species is doing in the grand scheme of sustainability. (It gets a “best choice” rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.)

Eventually, the Harney Sushi team hopes to create QR labels for all the species of fish that they serve.

Not that they’re thinking of labeling every piece of sushi. “It’s pretty labor-intensive to keep all of those little bits of paper separate,” said Katigbak. “We’d like for each table to get at least one QR code,” she explained.

It’s the message of sustainability that they want to get across to their customers. “If we don’t like where it comes from, we don’t sell it,” says Katigbak. “Sustainability is pretty important.”

Category: QR codes, Verification