Important Disclaimer: Although there are organizations like the MSC (marine stewardship council) that suggest certain seafood choices are sustainable with an abundant supply, I don’t believe ANY seafood or meat can be completely sustainable, because there are just too many people eating it! Restraint is always needed; US tuna should not be taken for granted and shouldn’t be over-consumed even though it’s a much healthier choice than imported tuna.
Americans consume approximately 3 lbs of tuna per year. Canned tuna is a billion dollar business, but it remains a confusing food for consumers to purchase.
Most tuna from large commercial brands contain mercury, plus the way these companies catch tuna is deplorable! For skipjack and yellowfin, they use a large net to catch massive amounts of tuna. For albacore tuna, the most used method is a longline. Problem is, other fish like shark, dolphins, & rays plus sea animals like turtles can also be caught using both these methods, and because the fishermen only want tuna, the unwanted fish are thrown (dead or wounded) back into the ocean.
Sustainability conscience companies use the troll and/or poll & line methods. The first method, trolling is a useful way to ensure that younger smaller tuna fish are caught, which are much lower in mercury.
There are only a handful of companies that offer tuna caught in the US. I like the idea of eating US caught tuna. I cringe when I read the label on the can and see “product of Indonesia” or Thailand, or China. Even companies like 365 from Whole Foods don’t offer tuna from the US. I assume the main reason is the expense. Consumers don’t want to pay a premium for premium products!
A can of tuna from Starkist or Chicken of the Sea is under $2 (sometimes under $1), but a can of higher quality USA tuna is $4-$5. Yeah, that’s a big difference! Americans have become so used to cheap food, but they don’t bother to think about the reason as to WHY it’s so cheap. The old saying “You get what you pay for” should apply to our food as well!
Buying American caught tuna is supporting the US, and you’re getting a much higher quality product (lower in mercury, higher in Omega 3 fatty acids). The quality of the tuna can’t be compared. The texture and taste is similar to eating freshly cooked tuna. It does require a little time to get used to the taste of higher quality tuna, as our nation’s taste buds are dulled by the taste (or lack there of) of main-stream commercial brands of canned tuna. But once you learn to appreciate it, it’s so much better. I think it’s worth the extra money.
Another positive aspect of purchasing a higher quality canned tuna is that it’s packed in the tuna’s natural juices, not in water or oil; there is no need to drain the can first. So, what you are paying for is TUNA, not canning liquid like the more popular brands; canning in natural juices also allow for a higher amount of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids to be retained.
Recommended Tuna Brands
Wild Planet Albacore & Skipjack Canned Tuna
UPDATE 2014-12-1: Wild Planet is no longer USA-caught!
Update: I was about to order a 12-pack of Wild Planet skipjack tuna from Amazon, and after checking the description and label photos, there was no info on “USA-caught” so I checked the Wild Planet’s product info web page and again, nothing. Only after looking at their FAQ page, I realized that their tuna is no longer USA-caught. HOW AWFUL! And to make things worse, the label no longer states “High Omega/Low Mercury”. What a disappointment! I wish I noticed sooner, but thankfully we only eat tuna occasionally. Lesson learned, no matter how good a product is one day, the quality can quickly change.
Wild Planet offers both skipjack and albacore canned tuna, and both are very tasty, although I think the albacore is a little milder than the skipjack.
Albacore Tuna: 5 oz can equals 1 oz natural juices + approximately 4 oz solid albacore tuna.
Skipjack Tuna: 5 oz can equals 1 oz natural juices + approximately 4 oz solid skipjack tuna.
I love that they offer Albacore with no salt added and most importantly, their cans are
BPA free not BPA-free any longer.
UPDATE: (2012-06-21) I noticed a couple of months ago, that their lining looked different, and there was no notification on the can about BPA, so I phoned their customer service. Sorry to say that Wild Planet did further testing on their cans, and they found that it is not BPA free anymore. She did say that they are working on finding an alternative, and that the BPA level was lower than other canned tuna.
(update: no longer caught in US) I am a little disappointed to realize that although their tuna is
caught in the US, it’s packed in Vietnam. From their web site:
Unfortunately, there is no US sardine or tuna cannery capable of processing our volume requirements and the last sardine factory in the United States closed in 2010.
On the question of the carbon load of overseas production:
We have studied this issue carefully, and are pleased to report that one of the lowest carbon-load forms of transportation on the planet is ocean freight. The carbon load of 26 tons of frozen tuna going from Seattle to Vietnam is miniscule and the finished cans returning are even less. Since there are no US canneries capable of processing these fisheries’ fish, we are using the most efficient means to utilize them for domestic consumption. It is interesting that prior to our company expanding its sales of these fish, these very same pounds were being exported and not returned for domestic use.
The carbon load of these fish is much lower than the “local” Alaskan halibut and salmon flown to lower 48 states. It is also lower than seafood trucked from West to East Coast or East to West Coast. It is really not total miles traveled but the kind of miles that constitute carbon load. This is one of the reasons why studies have shown that ocean freighted New Zealand lamb has less carbon load when sold in London than Scottish lamb. Distance by ocean is a minor factor compared to energy inputs from feed production.
Their explanations make sense, and although I am not happy that they have to use overseas canning facilities, and yes, I wish that there were more appropriate US canning factories, but their tuna is quite good, and I don’t feel too guilty purchasing it. I also have purchased their canned shrimp, which is very tasty in fresh salads.
American Tuna Company – Albacore Canned Tuna
American Tuna is a small company founded by six fishing families from San Diego, CA. These families represent generations of fishing for albacore with the “pole & line” method.
From their web site:
We are the first and only tuna fishery to be certified by MSC. Now our story is being told around the world and consumers can ask for pole & troll caught albacore. Every can/package/loin of albacore displaying the MSC eco-label can be traced back to the vessel that harvested it. American Tuna only supports fisherman using the Pole & Troll method and only processes albacore caught by AAFA vessels. This ensures our traceability and chain of custody will stay in tact, and gives our customers the ability to know exactly where there tuna came from, to know that the tuna they are eating are Small and Mercury Safe, and to know that the ocean is being protected.
They offer low salt and no salt varieties of tuna, and of course, their cans are BPA-free! They are 100% American; the fish are caught in California and canned in Oregon!
As you can see, their albacore tuna is a lovely white, very solid, and it makes a yummy sandwich! Each 6 oz can equals 1 oz natural juices + approximately 5 oz solid albacore tuna.
Other Web Sources
Although there are organizations like the MSC (marine stewardship council) that suggest certain seafood choices are sustainable with an abundant supply, I don’t believe ANY seafood or meat can be completely sustainable, because there are just too many people eating it! Restraint is always needed; US tuna should not be taken for granted and shouldn’t be over-consumed even though it’s a much healthier choice than imported tuna.