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By Bart Van Olphen of Bart's Fish Tales
I’m often asked if we should stop consuming tuna. And as with many other wild seafood species the answer is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; but depends on the source of the tuna.
I have travelled the world to live, fish and cook with the most sustainable fishing communities. Along the way I have visited some great tuna fisheries in the Maldives (Indian Ocean) and near San Diego on the Pacific; great examples to the world of how we should catch and consume tuna.
Tuna has been caught and eaten by humans for a very long time, and is still commercially fished all over the world, but tuna populations are being impacted by overfishing. And besides this, the fishing methods used to catch tuna are often responsible for a high by-catch of birds, sharks, dolphins, turtles and other marine species.
The best ways to catch tuna are the selective ‘one-by-one’ methods of pole and line and handline fishing. Only a small part of the total global tuna catch is currently caught using these methods, but they provide the tuna that is universally considered the most environmentally sustainable. If you buy tuna, make sure you buy tuna that’s been caught this way!
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a non-profit organisation certifying fisheries all over the world that are contributing to a better marine future. The MSC has certified 10 tuna fisheries around the globe so far. If you buy a piece or tin of tuna, look out for the blue eco-label.
POLE AND LINE AND HANDLINE
Pole and line and handline are traditional fishing methods that are both socially and environmentally responsible. Using ‘one man, one hook, one fish’ methods, fish are caught one at a time. These methods require many skilled fishers and are very selective, which makes it hard to overfish the tuna, ensuring fish for future generations of fishermen. This kind of fishing ensues that tuna stocks are protected, and so are vulnerable species like sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles that can get caught up in net fishing.
Besides the positive marine biological impact, these traditional methods also contribute to employment and better economies in developing countries – it takes a lot of people-power to catch tuna by pole and line, which means more job security for fishers.
Look for ‘pole and line’ or ‘handline caught’ on the label when choosing your tuna, and take comfort in knowing that it was fished from a sustainable source and that you are supporting small fishing communities.
There are many different tuna species, but the most commonly traded ones are skipjack, albacore, yellowfin and blue fin.
Skipjack tuna, also known as the striped tuna, is a relatively small fish. The colour of its meat varies between off-white and light red, which becomes brown-grey when cooked. The skipjack is the most abundant variety of tuna and the most widely consumed. It’s often found in cans, but you’ll also find the fresh fish in local markets in Asia and Southern Europe.
The mild-tasting albacore has a distinctive white-coloured meat when cooked. It is very popular in a number of countries, thanks in part to its large, moist flakes. In North America it’s a very popular canned product, while in the Mediterranean it is often sold in jars with olive oil.
Yellowfin tuna are big fish that can swim at incredibly high speeds, which is why in some locations they can be found swimming with dolphins. The meat is bright red when raw, but turns a brown-grey colour when cooked. The flesh is firm and moist with large flakes. Yellow fin is sold fresh, frozen and canned. It is also popular as a raw product in sushi and sashimi.
There are two varieties of blue fin tuna – the northern and the southern. Both are highly prized, particularly by the Japanese market as sashimi and sushi because of their size, colour, high fat content, flavour and texture. However, the populations of both are heavily depleted and it should therefore be totally avoided.
There are so many wonderful ways to cook tuna – just have a browse through our brilliant tuna recipes, or check out my lovely seared tuna steak for Food Tube below!
For more information on fishing methods and for tips on buying sustainable tuna, the International Pole & Line Foundation website is an excellent reference resource.
All photography by David Loftus
Are Sardines as Sustainable as They Seem?
The go-to recommendation for sourcing sustainable seafood is to eat fish that are low on the food chain. It&aposs a tip that typically sends us straight to sardines, and for good reasons: they&aposre affordable, delicious and full of calcium, vitamin B12, omega-3 fats and protein. But are they truly sustainable? Here the advice gets murky.
For the second year in a row, U.S. Pacific sardines cannot be fished. The fishery is closed due to a dangerously low dip in population. The estimated weight of the fishable stocks (aka the population) went from more than 1 million metric tons in 2006 to just 106,000 metric tons in 2016. Scientists say the decline is part of a naturally occurring "boom and bust" cycle, mainly influenced by environmental factors, including changes in ocean temperatures.
A drop in the sardine population affects other species. For instance, in the last three years, California sea lions have starved to death in record numbers.
What about fishing? "Fishing can contribute, but the decline is primarily environmentally driven," says Kevin Hill, Ph.D., supervisory research fishery biologist at the National Oceanic and tmospheric Administration (NOAA). "You don&apost want to hit the population too hard when it&aposs going through a decline." But he says we were nowhere near the scale of fishing that led to a sardine-fishing moratorium between 1967 and 1986-in the 1950s and early &apos60s, over 50 percent of the population was fished out of the ocean annually. Leading up to the recent decline, fishing rates were around 10 to 15 percent, peaking at 30 percent.
In keeping the fishery closed, NOAA is protecting against overfishing. Recent preliminary data suggest sardines may be on the rise, but more concrete surveys are needed before we can fish easy.
Human consumption of sardines in the U.S. makes up only a small part of the fishing pressure. Globally, 90 percent of harvested forage fish (which includes sardines) are used for bait, pet food or farm-nimal feed. But this isn&apost an efficient or sustainable use of sardines. For instance, it takes 20 pounds of sardines to produce just 1 pound of farmed bluefin tuna.
Environmentalist Geoff Shester, Ph.D., of Oceana, an international ocean- protection organization, says it would be better not to use sardines as animal feed and to just eat them ourselves. "If we&aposre eating them, we&aposre creating demand for a product that doesn&apost have to be caught in such large quantities to get the same amount of protein," he says. "It provides more money for the fishermen and feeds more people. Right now, inefficiency is driving the harvest.
"The value these fish have is often simply underestimated," Shester continues. "They really drive the health of our ocean and of our seafood supply. It&aposs something we&aposre just learning."
When you&aposre buying sardines, look for brands with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo. Or look for Pacific sardines, which net a "green" rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium&aposs Seafood Watch. You can still find pre-closure canned Pacific sardines. Skip sardines that come from the Mediterranean, a region that gets a red "avoid" rating.
Try It Yourself
Here are three great ways to try sardines from sustainable-seafood chef Barton Seaver:
• Toss 1 can each olive-oil-packed sardines and rinsed chickpeas with a splash of olive oil, a little red-wine vinegar, chopped fresh mint, orange zest and a big pinch of mace.
• Smear a little room-temperature butter on toasted sourdough, top with a couple sardines and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper. The butter mellows the rich flavor of the fish and the slight tang of the sourdough and bite of the chiles harmonize the dish.
• Sardines were originally preserved between layers of sea salt in barrels. As they cured, and their juices ran out and the pickled in their own briny liquid. Now preserved in cans, salt-packed sardines are commonly used in Southern Italian cuisine and are available in gourmet markets and from online specialty food retailers. Before using, the sardines need to be soaked in water to remove the extra salt before eating. Wipe as much salt as possible off of each flattened fish and soak in bowl of cold water 12 hours in the refrigerator, changing out the water once or twice. Pat dry and cut the meat off of both sides, then gently peel the meat off of the bone structure. Try marinating the fillets in garlic-thyme flavored vinegar and wrapping them around olives or chiles, or tossed with cherry tomatoes.
Expensive canned tuna doesn't necessarily mean it's sustainably caught
Just like a lot of other foods, how expensive canned tuna is in the stores can be more or less a marketing ploy. Simply grabbing the can of tuna with the highest price tag could be a mistake for environmentally-conscious shoppers. There are other ways of telling if your canned tuna is sustainably caught, such as making sure to buy the correct variety of tuna and doing a little research on the company to ensure the tuna is not over-fished from endangered populations.
As it turns out, "pole and line" fishing and "trolling" are two sustainable methods for catching tuna because they're the closest methods to one fisherman with a rod catching tuna. And while these methods can yield expensive results, an expensive can of tuna does not automatically mean the tuna was caught with these more sustainable methods. That tuna may just have a fancy sticker and a great marketing campaign behind its higher price tag.
The Best And Worst Cans Of Tuna, Based On Sustainability
We hate to tell you this, but you’re probably picking the wrong can of tuna. Buying a canned tuna isn’t just about deciding between water or oil packed, dark or light meat, expensive or cheap. There’s a lot more that goes into a can.
We’re talking fishing practices, traceability of the fish back to the sea, and knowing if these fishing companies are violating human rights in their labor practices ― this does happen, unfortunately.
Here’s the really bad news: a lot of the big brands are guilty of all the above. Greenpeace has spent months ranking 20 common canned tuna options and they found that the big three ― StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea ― are once again at the bottom of the ranks.
David Pinsky from Greenpeace explained to HuffPost how they go about ranking the cans. “The tuna brands are evaluated on sustainability, social responsibility, auditing, transparency with their labeling and information they provide consumers. That’s all reflected in a survey with supporting documentation to ensure that the information they provide is accurate ― and in addition to filling out the survey we often have a dialogue back and forth with the companies over a series of months to ensure the accuracy of the information.” Guys, it’s thorough.
Greenpeace first put together a canned tuna guide in 2015, but the industry has changed. “In the past two years we’ve seen many U.S. retailers take strides toward selling more responsibly-caught canned tuna,” explained Pinsky. “We’ve seen public commitments from some big names including Whole Foods which recently released a new canned tuna commitment to supply 100 percent sustainable canned tuna in stores by 2018. We’ve seen that growing wave of momentum within the retail sector.”
This is good news for all you tuna lovers out there. Just because the top three doesn’t meet the Greenpeace standard, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your tuna melt. Greenpeace not only scored the worst, but highlighted the best canned tuna on the market too.
Here they are, in order of absolute worst to the very best. We’ve included an excerpt of Greenpeace’s explanations for each brand’s rank below, but for the complete scope head on over to Greenpeace.
DID NOT RESPOND
VERDICT: "Failed again! StarKist continues its trend of ocean destruction.-
Ocean Safe Products: None.
"StarKist is not transparent about the origins of its tuna and refused, yet again, to provide Greenpeace with meaningful information about its operations. StarKist -- owned by global seafood giant, Dongwon -- has the largest market share of any canned tuna brand in the U.S. Scraping the bottom of the tuna guide for a second time, StarKist’s failure to take sustainability seriously is devastating the oceans -- all while it continues to sell cheap and dirty tuna nationwide. It is not only the lowest-ranked brand, but along with other failing brands, it’s dragging down the industry. StarKist must work to ensure healthy oceans, or the day may come when Charlie the Tuna is no more."
DID NOT RESPOND
VERDICT: A big fail for the oceans, consumer confidence, and H-E-B’s brand.
Ocean Safe Products: None.
"H-E-B product labels provide no information about the tuna inside cans. H-E-B is not transparent about the origins of its tuna and never replied to Greenpeace’s multiple inquiries to complete the tuna guide survey. So much for Texas pride. San Antonio-based H-E-B failed big time. From vague policies to scant public information and failing to participate in Greenpeace’s evaluation process, it begs the question: what does H-E-B have to hide? H-E-B used to be transparent about its initiatives, and then something happened. It’s unclear how H-E-B is addressing destructive fishing, illegal fishing, and rampant human rights abuses in the seafood industry. If you’re looking for responsibly-caught canned tuna, visit Whole Foods -- another Texas-based chain that is actually offering its customers better options."
DID NOT RESPOND
VERDICT: Great Value is anything but great for sharks and turtles. Avoid any Walmart brand canned tuna.
Ocean Safe Products: None.
"Walmart is the world’s largest retailer and sells about one out of every four cans of tuna in the U.S. Rather than lead, Walmart’s chosen to drown in a sea of dirty tuna. Walmart continues to fail, refusing to clean up its destructive Great Value brand canned tuna. Subject of a Greenpeace campaign and faced with human rights abuse scandals linked to its seafood supply chains, Walmart continues to issue empty promises while selling customers destructive and potentially unethical canned tuna. Don’t believe the greenwashing. Any customer that cares about sustainability and human rights should shop elsewhere for tuna, period."
DID NOT RESPOND
VERDICT: Cute bee, bad tuna. For the love of the oceans, avoid this brand and its greenwashing.
Ocean Safe Products: Wild Selections brand “light tuna.”
"Bumble Bee Foods, North America’s largest shelf stable seafood company, occupies over a quarter of the U.S. canned tuna market. Unfortunately, it’s not using its market power to demonstrably help the oceans or seafood workers. Bumble Bee needs to stop talking about sustainability and act to put responsibly-caught tuna in its flagship brand’s cans. Its traceability website is great on transparency, but it would be so much better if its tuna traced back to sustainable fisheries. By introducing its Wild Selection brand, Bumble Bee is providing products for customers seeking responsibly-caught tuna. Now it’s time to cut the greenwashing claims with its Bumble Bee brand and provide better options."
VERDICT: Some good options, but this popular retailer’s lack of progress spells trouble for the oceans.
Ocean Safe Products: Trader Joe’s brand skipjack tuna.
"Trader Joe’s operates hundreds of stores nationwide. The retailer’s previously taken action to improve its canned tuna, but years later it appears to have stalled out. Trader Joe’s is not winning at transparency, with no clear policy anywhere that outlines its tuna sourcing requirements. Trader Joe’s must ensure that all products, including its own brand albacore tuna products, are responsibly-caught. Trader Joe’s has shown before that it can take leadership to protect the oceans. The time has come (again) to prove it."
DID NOT RESPONDVERDICT: Bold claims by its parent company, but no improvements for Chicken of the Sea cans.
Ocean Safe Products: None.
"Chicken of the Sea — owned by Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company — is the third largest U.S. tuna brand. Greenpeace is campaigning for Thai Union to end its reliance on destructive tuna fisheries. While Chicken of the Sea claims it’s dedicated to sustainable products, it doesn’t offer a single one in the U.S. As Thai Union works to strengthen its sourcing requirements, it could lead the U.S. market if Chicken of the Sea became the first big national brand to sell responsibly-caught tuna. Until then, relying on transshipment at sea, sourcing from purse seines employing FADs that kill threatened species like sharks, and being unclear about the health of the tuna stocks it sources from means one thing: the oceans and seafood workers are still put at risk to fill this brand’s cans."
VERDICT: This Tuna Guide newcomer is on the cusp of big improvements.
Ocean Safe Products: Wild Harvest pole and linealbacore. Avoid the rest.
"This is SUPERVALU’s Tuna Guide debut. While the retailer did not receive a passing score, its efforts to clean up its own brand tuna are not going unnoticed. In addition to offering customers responsibly-caught pole and line albacore, SUPERVALU appears open to improving its canned tuna. This is positive news for the oceans, seafood workers, and customers. If SUPERVALU stays on track, it will most certainly improve its ranking."
VERDICT: Kirkland customers beware, you may need to seek better canned tuna elsewhere.
Ocean Safe Products: None.
"Costco Wholesale Corporation is a membership-based warehouse club, and the third largest retail chain in the U.S. Costco made waves in 2014 with its FAD-free Kirkland Signature skipjack tuna, but since then this popular retailer is tanking on its tuna commitments. Costco needs to get serious about offering Kirkland Signature customers responsibly-caught tuna and ensure that it’s available on Costco’s giant store shelves nationwide. Until then, unless it’s a sustainable national brand like Wild Planet, you just can’t trust the canned tuna at Costco."
VERDICT: Simply Balanced is the only safe bet—avoid the rest.
Ocean Safe Products: Simply Balanced brand skipjack and albacore.
"While Target made progress when it launched its Simply Balanced brand, since then it’s failed to significantly improve. Target led U.S. retailers by banning farmed salmon in its stores — where is that same level of leadership on responsible canned tuna? It’s time for Target to swim away from its sea of ocean destruction and commit to offering responsibly-caught tuna."
VERDICT: Big changes underway for one of the country’s largest retailers.
Ocean Safe Products: Look for responsibly-caught Kroger brand pole and line products, coming soon.
"Kroger relies on third party labels and industry-friendly standards to inform its tuna purchasing. It does not yet have a comprehensive canned tuna policy covering sustainability and social responsibility. Kroger is the largest traditional U.S. grocery chain and could be a powerful force to help improve ocean health. In a sea change from the last tuna guide, Kroger fully participated in the survey process. This demonstrates increased transparency and an openness to improve its canned tuna. Kroger is launching new responsibly-caught products and new product labels with more information about the tuna inside cans. Kroger can continue to build momentum by developing a strong, public procurement policy that ensures all of its own brand tuna is responsibly-caught. This would also signal to big brands like Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist: shape up or get off store shelves."
VERDICT: There’s promise for this retailer if it jumps on board with responsibly-caught canned tuna.
Ocean Safe Products: Nature’s Promise skipjack and albacore. Avoid the rest.
"Ahold Delhaize has strong social responsibility standards however, it needs a time-bound public policy that informs its customers as to how it will offer responsible tuna. Its larger Food Lion brand canned tuna is sourced from destructive fishing methods like purse seines using FADs and conventional longlines. Ahold Delhaize must improve its process to verify suppliers’ claims and lead U.S. retailers by removing transshipment at sea from its operations.
While this newer company offers pole and line caught tuna under its Nature’s Promise brand, it still sells large amounts of destructively caught tuna. Change could be on the horizon. This would be welcome news for the oceans, seafood workers, and customers seeking responsibly-caught tuna."
VERDICT: One of the latest retailers to offer responsibly-caught canned tuna.
Ocean Safe Products: Northern Catch FAD-free and pole and lineskipjack.
"Discount retailer ALDI is moving into a leadership role on responsibly-caught tuna, through its tuna commitments and introduction of FAD-free and pole and line caught Northern Catch skipjack tuna. ALDI would perform much better in the Tuna Guide if it increased its supply chain transparency. ALDI’s challenge is to maintain its course and improve its commitments to sustainable seafood and social responsibility. If it does, customers seeking accessible, responsibly-caught tuna may soon start flocking to ALDI instead of its competitors."
VERDICT: Some good options, but Albertsons has much more work to do.
Ocean Safe Products: Open Nature brand skipjackandalbacore --avoidtherest.
"Following Albertsons’ acquisition of Safeway, the recently merged company is the fourth largest grocery retailer in the U.S. As a major seller of canned tuna, it’s encouraging that Albertsons is getting serious about improving its seafood sustainability. To hold a leadership position in the U.S. market, Albertson's must transition away from destructively caught tuna, strengthen its social responsibility commitments specific to tuna, and continue to improve its traceability systems."
VERDICT: A good pole and line option, though there’s more work to do.
Ocean Safe Products: Nature’s Basket brand pole and linealbacore.
"While customers can trust its Nature’s Basket pole and line caught albacore tuna, its Giant Eagle brand tuna is still caught using destructive fishing methods. Giant Eagle can improve by ensuring that any of its own brand canned tuna is responsibly-sourced and by publicly stating how it will ensure its tuna adheres to strict social responsibility standards."
VERDICT: A retailer driven to make a difference and it shows.
Ocean Safe Products: Look for Wegmans brand pole and line canned tuna, coming soon.
"Founded by the Wegman family, this retailer takes pride in offering its customers quality products. Its seafood team has worked hard for years to offer more sustainable seafood. This is welcome news for customers committed to protecting the oceans and workers’ rights, and sends a message to big tuna brands that it’s time to lead too. If Wegmans works to ensure that its own brand tuna is responsibly-caught, increases information available to customers, and prioritizes its social standards, this Rochester-based retailer will be well on its way to the green category."
VERDICT: Some better options on shelves, with improvements ahead.
Ocean Safe Products: Hy-Vee Select “Responsible Choice” skipjack and albacore.
"Ocean lovers rejoice: this retailer is serious about sustainable seafood. It even has a blog featuring seafood sustainability. Hy-Vee will likely move into the green category as it implements its sustainable tuna commitments and addresses key social responsibility issues that protect workers’ rights. Based on its leadership thus far, expect big changes ahead."
VERDICT: Global tuna company Tri Marine provides responsibly-caught tuna.
Ocean Safe Products: All Ocean Naturals brand canned tuna.
"Ocean Naturals is owned by Tri Marine—one of the largest tuna traders in the world. When introduced a few years ago, this responsibly-caught brand offered a clear alternative to destructive national brands. The closing of Tri Marine’s American Samoa processing plant leaves questions about the future and direction of Ocean Naturals. Tri Marine must continue to help lead the industry in the right direction and use its clout to ensure that more responsibly-caught tuna replaces destructive tuna lining supermarket shelves."
VERDICT: This guide’s top-ranked U.S. retailer has a commitment to sell only responsibly-caught canned tuna by early 2018.
Ocean Safe Products: All 365 Everyday Value brand skipjack and albacore.
"All 365 Everyday Value tuna is pole and line caught—a fishing method with minimal impacts on other marine life. 365 Everyday Value tuna products indicate the species and catch method on labels. Whole Foods is the first and only U.S. retailer with a commitment to sell only pole and line, handline, or troll caught canned tuna. By early 2018, any canned tuna sold in Whole Foods will be responsibly-caught. Whole Foods will feature more information online and in stores to inform customers about sustainable tuna. Whole Foods has strong traceability systems to ensure that its tuna is responsibly sourced. Whole Foods has worked for years to provide more sustainable seafood for customers in its fresh and frozen departments. In March 2017, Whole Foods made history as the first U.S. retailer to commit to selling 100% sustainable canned tuna and upholding strong labor standards. Soon, any canned tuna on store shelves will be sourced from best practice fishing methods like pole and line, handline, or troll. These catch methods benefit small-scale fisheries and significantly reduce the likelihood of human rights violations. This commitment sets the bar for other retailers to follow and sends a strong message to failing tuna brands that their time of ocean destruction is coming to an end."
VERDICT: A trusted sustainable tuna brand and pole and line tuna advocate.
Ocean Safe Products: All American Tuna and Pole & Line brand canned tuna.
"American Tuna is a San Diego-based company founded by six pole and line fishing families. American Tuna works to connect pole and line fishers, and supports the development of more sustainable and socially responsible fisheries. While American Tuna customers have trusted the brand as a more responsible choice when it comes to ocean protection, the company’s move to solidify its eco-practices with a public policy is significant. This increased American Tuna’s rank this year to tie for first place in the tuna guide."
VERDICT: An eco-brand dedicated to greening store shelves and driving industry change.
Ocean Safe Products: All Wild Planet & Sustainable Seas brand canned tuna.
"Wild Planet Foods is a company dedicated to providing sustainable tuna products. Its Wild Planet and Sustainable Seas brands are found in stores nationwide and its market presence is growing with increased demand for responsibly-caught tuna. Since the last Tuna Guide, Wild Planet updated its procurement policy, strengthening it even further to state its commitment to social responsibility. Wild Planet’s top rank is a reflection of its continued efforts to improve its operations and the larger industry."
Here are 5 important reasons why Sustainable Fish is Good for You…AND the World.
As our tastes for fish determine what species are caught (affecting the delicate balance of fish in the ocean), many people are looking for fish and seafood choices that are sustainable—fish they can feel good about eating.
Our oceans cover more than seventy percent of the earth’s surface, but worldwide demand for fish and seafood is growing more rapidly than our oceans can reasonably (and safely) support.
When it comes to seafood, the term “sustainable” means that a fish has been caught or farmed with both the long-term future of the species and the health of the oceans in mind. Put simply, seafood that is sustainable is better for both you and the planet. Here’s why:
Enter: A Healthier You
Many sustainable fish varieties are high in protein, vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy omega-3s, while containing low amounts of harmful chemicals. Overfish seafood, such as Salmon and Tuna, more often than not, contain Mercury, PCBs, or contaminants. Larger fish that are higher up on the food chain tend to have higher levels of harmful chemicals due to bioaccumulation. Consequently, the protein-packed barramundi has half the calories of salmon and is one one of the most pure fish available with negligible levels of mercury, PCBs and contaminants.
Your Wallet Will Thank You
There are many affordable options when it comes to sustainable fish which make it accessible for everyday enjoyment. Arctic char, barramundi, and trout are just a few examples. Additionally, buying sustainably farmed fish instead of more expensive wild-caught options increases demand for responsibly-raised fish you vote with your dollar.
You Support Local Economies
Many coastal fishing towns around the United States and the world depend on small-scale fisheries for both income and food. By purchasing locally-caught wild fish (caught where you live) or third party-certified farmed fish, you directly support such people and local economies.
You Help Endangered Species
More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, resulting in many endangered fish species (1,098 to be exact, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature). Choosing sustainably farmed fish helps reduce the pressure on wild fisheries and allows populations to rebuild.
You Eat Deliciously
If the saying “You are what you eat” is true, then eating sustainable fish means you care about your health, the health of the planet, and enjoying truly good food. For proof, check out our sustainable fish recipes for tasty inspiration.
Read more in our Essential Guide to Sustainable Seafood series:
Obesity and overweight are the biggest health problems worldwide. Tuna is a low-calorie, high-quality protein food full of healthy nutrients that boost health, metabolism and reduce fat. Increased intake of the omega three fatty acids from tuna meat stimulate a hormone for hunger, called leptin. With this hormone at bay, you won&rsquot crave for food.
Healthy Tip: Boost your metabolism with several meals a day, and reduce the carbohydrates in late afternoon to night hours.
Where Have All the Bluefin Gone?
To understand this problem, we first have to understand that tuna is a word that refers to a lot of different fish. The tuna in your tuna salad is not the same as the tuna at the sushi bar, and while each of these fish have their own challenges to face out in the big blue sea, Pacific Bluefin is the most endangered of them all.
“The total amount of Bluefin in the ocean is 2.5 percent of its historic total,” says Ryan Bigelow, Seafood Watch Program Engagement Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “Ninety-seven percent of tuna are gone. Ninety-sevenਊnd a half.”
What&aposs worse: this enormous loss of tuna has only really occurred in the past seventy years.
“While I can’t scientifically tell you when they will all be gone, it is urgent," says Bigelow. "If something doesn’t change soon, we could very easily fish them into commercial extinction. We’ve done it before with other species. So it’s definitely possible, and it could happen easily within our lifetimes, easily within the next 20 years.”
Easy on the Shrimp, Go Big on Mussels
I know how great shrimp tastes, but an awful lot of it is farmed under repellent conditions, and much of that by actual slave labor. (In Southeast Asia, fishing-boat captains have been known to kidnap indigent men, forcing them to work for no pay and holding them in cages between shifts.) And the wild stocks of the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico are mostly trawled, a destructive method. Better to look for something else, and that something else is mussels. They’re sustainably farmed. (If you’re lucky you can buy wild, and those are even better.) They’re also inexpensive, delicious, and incredibly easy to cook. One pound per person is adequate, though an extra pound among three or four people will get eaten.
Wash mussels well, removing any beards if present. (You’ll know what a beard is when you see it.) Steam about ten minutes in a covered pot with 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 dried chile, and 1/2 cup dry white wine. While mussels are cooking, melt 1 stick (for four people) butter in a small saucepan and stir in lime juice, lime zest, and Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste. Garnish with coarsely chopped cilantro and serve with the dipping sauce.
Types of Tuna & Their Conservation Statuses
There are five main species of tuna that are commercially fished and sold for human consumption, and each one has a unique geographic range, fishing methods and conservation status (source, source).
A temperate and tropical-dwelling fish usually sold canned in grocery stores. The population is currently stable and classified as “of least concern.” However, skipjack are usually caught using purse-seine nets in combination with fish aggregation devices (FADs). FADs are floating fish “lures” that attract not only the target fish, but also many other species that get caught up in the fishing net with the target fish (source). FADs greatly increase the amount of bycatch per net. Obviously, this is not an environmentally-friendly fishing tool–steer clear of fish that is caught using FADs. Better yet, look for pole-and-line caught fish, which has an even lower incidence of bycatch and bycatch mortality (source).
You can easily find eco-friendly fished skipjack using the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site (or download the app, which is linked on the home page).
Yellowfin or “Ahi”
A tropical fish sold canned and fresh, and often used in sashimi. They are “near threatened” as populations are declining worldwide due to overfishing. They are usually fished using the same methods as skipjack. Due to their conservation status, it is probably best to stay away from yellowfin tuna. Only eat sustainably-fished yellowfin (pole-and-line caught, or at least fished without FADs) if you must.
Albacore tuna inhabit a wide range of temperate and tropical waters and are usually sold canned. They are also “near threatened” due to overfishing. They are usually caught on longlines, in which several smaller fishing lines with (often live) bait on the end are attached at intervals to one long fishing line. Longline fishing results in significant amounts of bycatch. It is widely considered to be inhumane, as fish and other animals that are caught are left to die over a period of several hours or even days (source).
Again, it is probably best to avoid eating albacore tuna to due its conservation status. If you must eat it, look for pole-and-line caught fish.
Bigeye, also known as “Ahi”
Bigeye tuna live in subtropical and tropical waters and are sold fresh or frozen. Their populations are “vulnerable”: less than 20% of the population remains (source). The fishing method is irrelevant here. Eating bigeye in any form, fished in any manner is bad for the environment.
Bluefin tuna live all over the world. There are three subspecies: Atlantic, Southern, and Pacific. Atlantic Bluefin tuna are endangered. Southern Bluefin tuna, which migrate between the Indian Ocean and western Australia, are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Pacific Bluefin tuna are estimated to be at less than 3% of their population. However, the US government refuses to put protections in place to prevent them from going extinct, most likely because they are so lucrative (source). Definitely avoid Bluefin tuna.
Overall: If you like tuna, buy sustainably-caught skipjack. Limit sustainably-caught yellowfin and albacore consumption. Avoid bigeye and bluefin entirely.
Red snapper is a great fish, but it has been hammered everywhere it swims, particularly in the Caribbean. From a taste standpoint, this reef fish is excellent—but not so fine that the more plentiful gray or yellowtail snappers can't substitute for them. And honestly, avoid the problem altogether and buy black seabass if you are on the East Coast, or Pacific Rockfish if you are in the West.
If you must have real red snapper, make sure you buy the varieties that live around the Hawaiian Islands—these are not overfished. Yet.
Canned or Fresh Tuna?
These recipes can be made using either fresh or canned tuna fish. Tuna is high in protein and low in fat, making it an ideal food for your weight loss diet.
If using canned tuna try and choose tuna packed in water rather than in oil, as it will contain less calories and less fat, and the quality of the oil is not always that good.
All 3 options fresh tuna, canned tuna in oil, and canned tuna in water, have high levels of omega 3 (especially DHA, one of the three types of Omega 3 fatty acids), protein, vitamins and minerals.
Also keep in mind that canned tuna is alot higher in salt (sodium) than fresh tuna, so if you are suffering from high blood pressure you may want to choose fresh tuna over canned tuna.
From a convenience point of view, canned tuna which could last several years in your kitchen, is a good inexpensive lean protein food to keep in your pantry, for a quick and easy healthy meal.
Mercury levels in tuna are also relatively higher than in other fish such as salmon or mackeral, this is because tuna eat smaller fish and therefore the mercury goes up the food chain, accumulating further. Smaller tuna varieties (such as skipjack tuna) tend to have less mercury and canned tuna usually contains more smaller tuna varieties, therefore canned tuna contains usually less mercury than fresh tuna fillets or steaks.
The recipes below can be made using either fresh or canned tuna fish, so please enjoy and share.