Fact or Fishy

Meet The Tunas

Tuna is not a fish whose personality you can pin down in three well-chosen adjectives. It is the trusty canned good that can get you through a zombie attack; the lunch box staple; the hiker’s pouched indulgence; the pricey epitome of raw elegance. Alive, tuna is known for being big, fast, beautiful, and one hell of a fish to have at the end of your line.

One of the secrets behind tuna’s many personas is that it isn’t just one fish, it’s a whole extended family, and each member has its own unique personality. So, without further ado, let’s meet five of the most popular tunas.


The Tunas

Bluefin (Northern/ Southern)
“Big Momma”

Bluefin Tuna

Personality: Slow-growing, fast-going. Biggest, oldest, and wisest of the Tunas (lives for over 20 years).

Most frequently seen as: sushi, sashimi.

Home waters: Northern Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean/ Far Southern Pacific, Atlantic, Indian.

Caught with: Purse seine and long line/ Pole and line, surface troll, long line.

Status: Very threatened. If encountered in a restaurant, just say no.


Skipjack

“The popular second cousin”

skipjack tuna

Personality: Can’t stay in one place for long, smallish, matures quickly (1 year), reproductively active.

Most frequently seen as: canned chunks.

Home waters: Tropical Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic.

Caught with: Purse seine (mostly), some pole & line.

Status: A safe bet. Some local overfishing, but hard to globally overfish because they are so reproductively active.


Albacore

“Uncle Long-Fin ”

Albacore tuna

Personality: Fondly called “chicken” by other family members for his pale, dry meat; popular with Americans; has a very long pectoral fin good for high-fiving.

Most frequently seen as: canned, cheaper sushi, frozen, fresh.

Home waters: Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian.

Caught with: long line, pole-and line, troll.

Status: Mixed. Pacific = good; Southern Atlantic = overfished; Northern Atlantic =  unknown Indian = not great;  Mediterranean = unknown.


Yellowfin

“The gregarious younger sibling”

Yellowfin tuna

Personality: Likes to hangout with other groups of yellowfin and swim with dolphins. Second only to Skipjack in popularity and plentitude. Big and fast. Older at maturity than Skipjack (second cousin) and younger at maturity than Bigeye (the older sibling) requiring 3-4 years to find itself before starting a family. Often confused for Bigeye. Hates it when that happens.

Most frequently seen as: canned, sushi, fresh fillets, loins and steaks, frozen loins.

Home waters: Tropical and temperate Pacific, Atlantic, Indian.

Caught with: purse seine, long line, pole and line.

Status: Mostly good. Only Atlantic Ocean stock is unsure.


Bigeye

“The older sibling”

Bigeye Tuna

Personality: Likes to go deep into things, especially water, which it can comfortably do insulated by its scholarly layer of fat; older at maturity (7-8 years) than the younger one. Often confused for Yellowfin. Hates it when that happens.

Most frequently seen as: fresh fillets (sashimi), fresh (whole fish)

Home waters: Tropical and temperate Pacific, Indian, Atlantic

Caught with: long line, purse seine, pole and line, troll

Status: Mixed. US caught = good. Indian and Pacific pole/troll = good. Although some fishing methods in other locations may be okay, many are currently rated as unsustainable or overfished, particularly in the Western Central Pacific and Atlantic.


How can I tell if my tuna is sustainable?

Sustainable tuna is caught in a way that doesn’t catch a lot of things other than tuna (bycatch), destroy habitat, or send a population into collapse. Here are three things to look into when determining if your tuna is sustainable or not:

1. Harvest method: Some harvesting methods are associated with high levels of bycatch and habitat destruction.  
2. Management: Good management can reduce bycatch and habitat destruction associated with harvesting, and prevent overfishing.
3. Stock status: A few tuna stocks are dangerously overfished, such as bluefin stocks and some albacore stocks.

It’s really a combination of these three factors that determines whether a tuna is sustainably harvested or not. Seafood Watch provides a handy guide to help you pick out environmentally safe tuna.

Who’s watching out for the Tunas?

All of the Tunas are intrepid globetrotters, so monitoring the health of their populations has to be a global effort. Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) set catch limits and monitor tuna stocks within their participating countries.

Salty Girl Tuna Recommendations:

F/V Ventura II/Ventura Fish Co

The Dupuy family, owner of Ventura Fish Company, was the first longliner out of California to target bigeye tuna. Former captain Pete Dupuy worked with fisheries managers to get regulations and restrictions placed on the fishery. Today, an observer from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rides along on each trip to measure fishing impacts. Results are published and accessible to the public so that consumers know Ventura Fish Co fish are caught with minimal bycatch and almost no impact to marine mammals. Ventura Fish Co sells directly to consumers and businesses in Ventura, CA.

Safe Catch

Safe Catch is a true innovator in the world of canned tuna. Not only are their tuna traceable and sustainably sourced, they are also individually tested for mercury content using technology developed by the company. Safe Catch uses its testing technology to pick out tuna that don’t meet strict mercury criteria so it can guarantee customers skipjack tuna with ten times less mercury than the FDA limit and albacore tuna with three times less mercury than the FDA limit. Safe Catch products are sold online and can also be in found in grocery stores.

Salty Girl Seafood now offers sustainable Smoked Albacore Tuna in our online store. Sign up for our newsletter to receive discounts and updates on new products!

 


Fact or Fishy

We've had so many questions about finding sustainable seafood that we've decided to share our knowledge! Below are some of the FAQs about tuna.

Does all tuna have high levels of mercury?

FISHY

Like most sea creatures higher up the food chain, the Tunas contain higher than average amounts of mercury. Whether the amount is “high” or not depends on how old/ big the tuna is (older/ bigger = more mercury), where it feeds, and which part of the tuna you eat (fatty part = less mercury; lean = more mercury). Lean Bluefin (Bluefin akami) and bigeye generally have the highest mercury levels, while yellowfin and fatty Bluefin (Bluefin toro) generally have the lowest. Albacore caught specifically in the U.S. or British Columbia is also considered a safe choice because it is caught when it’s still young. Canned tuna also generally have lower levels of mercury than non-canned because they tend to be smaller fish, while sushi-grade tuna have higher levels of mercury because they are larger, leaner fish.

Within the world of canned tuna, there is also a continuum:

- Chunk light = blend of different species (higher in mercury)
- Chunk white = Albacore (higher in mercury, unless American or Canadian)
- Canned light = skipjack (lower in mercury)

I love tuna and want to eat it every day, but I should resist this temptation?

FACT

Yes, especially if you’re a child, are pregnant, or nursing.

Different sources give quite different numbers for what the “safe” amount of tuna to consume actually is.  Recommendations for canned tuna fall between the FDA and EPA guidelines (eat more tuna) and the Got Mercury? Calculator developed by Turtle Island Restoration Network (eat less tuna).

Is Ahi tuna ok for me to eat?

FACT

In moderation, all tuna are fine to eat and have considerable health benefits, which should be weighed against the potential health issues from mercury. Ahi sushi refers to either bigeye or yellowfin raw tuna. Bigeye generally has more mercury than yellowfin because it is usually larger when caught.

Is tuna ranching bad?

FACT

Tuna ranches promise to do a good thing– supplement wild tuna stocks that aren’t in great shape, especially Bluefin. While the promise is good, the reality is not. First, most operational farms catch young tuna and then raise them in captivity, which still depletes the stock rather than supplements it. Second, because of a loophole in regulations, the captured tuna are not counted towards management quotas and go unregulated. Third, because tuna are top predators, they need to eat a whole lot of fish before reaching market size- about 20kg of fish for 1 kg of tuna, to be more precise. This puts pressure on other fisheries and makes tuna ranching unsustainable.

 

 Author: Smadar Levy In 2012, Smadar volunteered as a teacher in the Marshall Islands. Witnessing the environmental challenges faced by island communities led her to UCSB’s Bren School where she is a master’s student specializing in Environmental Economics & Politics with a focus in Communications. Smadar finds greatest fulfillment when creatively building connections among people and ideas that will help solve environmental problems.

Traceability: Why knowing your seafood’s story matters

Click here to download this seafood traceability infographic.

There is a lot of diversity in how a piece of fish travels from a fisherman’s boat to your dinner table. While some fish enjoy a short and sweet trip, others undertake a lengthy, multi-stop journey before reaching their final destination. Having access to and confidence in a seafood product’s itinerary is what traceability is all about, and there are good reasons to take note and perk up when discussing the travels of a fish.

Reason #1: Quality

The length and complexity of a fish’s journey, as well as how it’s handled along the way tells you a lot about its quality. For fresh seafood, knowing where and when your fish was caught is key. Like humans, fish that take a shorter journey with fewer pit stops will maintain freshness a lot better than fish that take a longer journey with many layovers. For frozen seafood, knowing where your seafood came from and how it was caught or handled (such as frozen-at-sea, or once-frozen versus twice-frozen) is more important in gauging your future meal’s flavor and nutrition; the quicker a fish is frozen, and the less time it spends thawed, the more the flavors and nutrients stay locked in.

Reason #2: Confidence

Fraud is a rampant problem in the seafood industry. Estimates of mislabeling in the U.S. seafood supply range from 20% to upwards of 50%.  Traceable products address this concern by tracking who handles the product and how it is treated at each step of the supply chain. Not only is this important for quality, but if you care about eating sustainable seafood, traceability can ensure that the fish you purchase is coming from a true sustainable fishery and not somewhere else. If your fish is traceable, you can feel confident that you are getting the species and quality of seafood you paid for.

Reason #3: Health

Safety concerns about seafood generally arise around three issues: mishandling of products, exposure to environmental pollution, and chemical additives. Traceability alleviates these three concerns by:

-  Ensuring a transparent supply chain, which allows retailers to recall bad product and hold suppliers and processors accountable.

- Supplying information about where your food was caught, how it was caught, freshness dates, and what species it is so you can decide if it’s safe to eat.

- Tracking if chemicals were added and, if so, which ones, so you can decide what you are comfortable consuming. Chemicals are often added to wild-caught fish to preserve their appearance and taste, and are also used extensively by fish farms to prevent disease.

Reason #4: Connection

Being able to know where your fish was caught or raised, learn about who caught it, and to stare at your fisherman’s photo and say, “Ha! It was you,” is kind of darn exciting. Just try it.

The bottom line:

Traceability tracks the story behind your seafood, which reveals much about its quality, identity, and associated health risks. Traceability also gives you confidence in the contents of a label and creates a connection to your food that makes your sea fare that much more exciting.

FACT OR FISHY

We've had so many questions about finding sustainable seafood that we've decided to share our knowledge! Below are some of the FAQs about traceability.

1. Is the main difference between traceable and regular seafood just that I know where it was caught?

FISHY

Traceable seafood is tracked at every step of its journey from boat deck to grocery store so you can feel confident that what you’re buying is what it says it is and at the level of quality that you are paying for.

2. Is traceable seafood a safer choice?

FACT

If it is traceable, you can trust that the product is what it says it is - and that is always a safer choice. Different species of fish vary in everything from allergens to mercury concentrations (e.g., skipjack tuna has moderate mercury concentrations: 0.09–0.29 parts per million vs. yellowfin tuna with higher mercury concentrations: 0.3–0.49 parts per million), and different supply chains vary in everything from chemical additives to human rights concerns. Always ask where your seafood comes from. 

3. Is sustainable seafood always traceable and traceable seafood always sustainable?

FACT and FISHY

Sustainable seafood needs to be traceable or else there is no way of proving that the product being sold was harvested sustainably. But traceable seafood doesn’t have to be sustainable– just track-able from catch to consumption. When looking for sustainable seafood, check for sustainability information or ratings such as Seafood Watch and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), or check the back of your Salty Girl Seafood package!

Some good reads:

Seafood Mislabeling

Mislabeled Shrimp Fraud

The Use and Abuse of Polyphosphates

White paper on Traceability in the Seafood Industry by FishWise

Fact or Fishy: Shrimp Essentials

Americans love shrimp. As a nation, we consume more than 1 billion pounds of it every year– more than salmon, tuna, tilapia, or any other seafood item. Despite the popularity of shrimp, it remains something of a mystery. For example, what is a shrimp? And what makes shrimp sustainable or not sustainable? We’re glad you asked…

What is shrimp?

Shrimp may be called prawn, prawn may be called shrimp, and something that isn’t shrimp or prawn may also be called shrimp depending on where you are in the world. Don’t let this bother you. All that the term “shrimp” consistently means is that the water creature you are eyeing hungrily is a crustacean with stalky-eyes, an elongated body, a muscular tail, lengthy whiskers, and 10 delicate legs much better suited to swimming than walking.

Sustainable or not sustainable?

Both wild-caught and farmed shrimp can have major impacts on the environment. Wild-caught shrimp can be associated with high levels of bycatch and the destruction of aquatic habitat. Farmed shrimp can be associated with water pollution, increased transmission of marine diseases, release of farmed species into the wild, and destruction of coastal habitat. To avoid shrimp with serious environmental baggage, the two most important questions to ask are, “How are the shrimp harvested?” and, “Where are they harvested?”

How shrimp are harvested is important because some methods, like trapping and closed system farming, tend to have less environmental impact than other methods, like bottom trawling and open-system farming. Where shrimp is harvested is important because some countries, like the U.S. and Canada, generally have more environmentally stringent fishery regulations than other countries. Also, different locations may be more or less vulnerable to the impacts of shrimp harvesting methods– think rocky reef bottom versus a mud bottom.

However, it is really the combination of how and where shrimp are harvested that determines the sustainability of a fishery. For example, bottom trawling gets a bad rap for wreaking havoc on the ocean floor and catching everything in its path. But if it is used only on sand or mud bottoms and paired with a bycatch-deterring device, bottom trawling may be the method of choice for a perfectly sustainable shrimp fishery.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch provides a nice list of shrimp recommendations that are based on these criteria.

Where can I buy sustainable shrimp?

Different shrimp have different seasons, but if you’re not picky about which variety you want, it should be simple enough to find sustainably harvested shrimp. Here are a few places to start your search.

Local sources: fish markets, farmer’s markets

Grocery stores: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Target

Online: FreshDirect.com (serves NY and Philly), Vitalchoice.com

Shrimp leaders

Even in fisheries red-flagged by Seafood Watch and Fishwise as utterly unsustainable, there exist fishermen who meet the highest level of sustainability standards. Click on the pictures below to learn about some fishery leaders who are working hard to make shrimping more sustainable.

 Lance Nacio, Anna Marie Seafoods

Lance Nacio, Anna Marie Seafoods

 Del Pacifico Seafoods

Del Pacifico Seafoods

The bottom line:

Shrimp harvesting can have major environmental impacts so it is good to know how and where your shrimp was harvested to avoid unsustainable choices. There are handy guides out there to help you make your choice (Seafood Watch), trusted retailers who stock verified sustainable shrimp (WF, TJs), and fishery leaders working to make shrimp more sustainable so that you can keep on enjoying those long-tailed, dainty-legged crustacean thingamajigs for as long as you live.

Fact or Fishy

We've had so many questions about finding sustainable seafood that we've decided to share our knowledge! Below are some of our FAQs about shrimp.

"Traps are the only sustainable method for harvesting shrimp."

FISHY

While traps have minimal environmental impacts compared to other harvesting methods, that doesn’t mean that they are being employed sustainably, or that other methods can’t be sustainable. Trapping can lead to overfishing and bottom trawling can lead to a healthy fishery depending on how the fishery is managed. Aquaculture, especially recirculating systems, can also provide sustainable shrimp all year.

"Shrimp harvesting has a lot of bycatch."

FACT and FISHY

It is true that shrimp trawling has some of the worst bycatch rates of any fishery with up to six pounds of bycatch discarded for every one pound of shrimp. However, many fisheries are able to reduce bycatch by using bycatch-deterring devices or a harvesting method other than trawling that has lower levels of bycatch. Because shrimp harvesting and farming can have huge environmental impacts, it is particularly important to do a little bit of research when choosing which shrimp to buy.

"Farmed shrimp is not good for me."

FACT and FISHY

Farmed shrimp has gotten its fair share of bad press (ex. “Why you may never want to eat shrimp again”) and for good reasons– chemical additives and destruction of mangrove forests are a couple that come to mind. But closed aquaculture systems, especially recirculating tanks, can have a very small environmental footprint with minimal chemical additives and land destruction (“Is there a sustainable future for America’s most popular seafood?”).

Safe bets when it comes to sustainable shrimp:

- Wild shrimp from Alaska or Canada
- Shrimp farmed in closed containment/ recirculation aquaculture systems in the U.S. and Canada

FACT

More Resources:

A good guide to U.S. sustainable shrimp year-round

Sample Seafood Watch Report on pink shrimp, sidestripe shrimp, and spot prawn