Q: I love tuna. Is any of it okay to eat?
A: On a sandwich board of choices, I've got to say tuna salad still makes my mouth water. My dad's classic recipe with olive oil, wine vinegar, diced onion and celery is my all-time fave. Alas, it's nearly extinct from my lunch roster.
Too many reports of large-fish stocks being gutted by up to 10 per cent in recent decades is enough to make many tuna lovers lose their appetite. The kind of tuna we eat in sushi or pan-seared are in particularly bad trouble. Our hunger for them is voracious, and many species are close to the brink. Not that any governments will admit as much.
Just last month, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (a body of scientists and government reps) went public with calls to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Canada's Species At Risk Act. It's a shame the feds are unlikely to follow through, and last week the U.S. declined to make the politically unpopular move of granting the fish endangered status.
But never say never. If we kick up enough of a stink and harass our MPs, the feds may just surprise us. Certainly public opinion is on the right side: a new WWF/Ekos poll found 91 per cent of Canadians feel the fish on our shelves should come from sustainable sources. In honour of World Oceans Day (June 8), sign the petition on Atlantic bluefin tuna at thepetitionsite.com.
Now, the tuna snagged from the sea for canning isn't in quite as critical a state, but if we don't slow down our consumption and change the way we fish, it'll go the way of the bluefin.
If you want to make sure you don't contribute to their demise, you've got to pick the right can. Earlier this year, Greenpeace Canada issued a report on canned tuna and published some pretty horrifying stats about "light" tuna (mostly skipjack and yellowfin) and the "white" stuff, albacore. If you thought dolphin-safe tuna kept shark and turtles safe, you've got another thing coming.
On the 100-kilometre longlines that snag albacore, at least 250,000 loggerhead turtles and 60,000 leatherback turtles are caught every year. As well, 1.4 million sharks get caught, killed and tossed as "bycatch." The bycatch rate for yellowfin is just as frightening (111,000 tons of other species for every 1,000 tons of yellowfin, according to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission).
Even if you want to pick one type of tuna, say safer skipjack, over yellowfin, there is no guarantee that a can contains what its label advertises. Greenpeace testing found a few big-name brands containing different species than those listed on the can.
The enviro org ranked 14 canned tuna brands on the sustainability of their practice, and 12 flunked big time. The main target of Greenpeace's latest campaign is Canada's biggest tuna brand, Clover Leaf. Why? Sarah King of the org says it talks a good green game, but has made no commitment to stop destructive fishing methods. Plus, testing found that some of their "light" tuna contains bigeye tuna - not a good thing, since all stocks are in long-term decline. (Send a letter to the CEO at cloverleafcannedtuna.ca.)
Of the big-name brands, Ocean Fisheries scored highest (45 per cent), thanks to a recent procurement decision to seek more sustainable fish, but only half its stock actually meets the company's own criteria to date.
King says Loblaws and Safeway have committed to cleaning up their tuna within the year. The only passing grade went to Wild Planet Foods and Raincoast Trading. Wild Planet sources safer troll- or pole-and-line caught skipjack and albacore and serves it up in BPA-free cans. BC-based Raincoast catches and processes all its albacore tuna via more sustainable hook and line. It's packaged in BPA-free cans with an Ocean Wise seal of approval. They're not perfect, but both brands fish for smaller tuna that have lower mercury levels, and both monitor those levels to make sure they stay low.
To check out the report, go to greenpeace.ca. The lesson of the day is eat less tuna and don't crack a can unless it's clearly committed to ocean-friendly practices and comes clean about it's contents on the label. If it doesn't tell you where and how the tuna was caught and what kind of tuna lies within, put it back.
At this point, it'll cost you extra to support greener tuna, but, hey, you want to make sure there's still plenty more fish in the sea, don't you?
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