Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Is canned tuna a responsible seafood choice?

Many of us love the simplicity of canned tuna, either as a quick lunch at work or a simple dinner. This product is protein-rich, low in fat and relatively inexpensive, which makes it an affordable, healthy meal option. But some tuna species are becoming highly endangered because of the increasing demand for fresh fish. But for many, it’s unclear whether canned tuna fits into the endangered category or not.

The short answer is that all tuna populations are in trouble.  

Species and sustainability
There are seven tuna species that are caught and consumed: Albacore, Bigeye, Skipjack, Yellowfin, and three species of bluefin: Northern bluefin, Pacific bluefin, and Southern bluefin. Bluefins are the most valued, which makes it unlikely to be used for canning. These and other large species are used in the restaurant industry for steaks, sushi and other seafood dishes, their populations being heavily impacted because of this.

So, with bluefins destined for the restaurants, a number of other tuna species are used in canning. But even though these species have less impacted populations, there are issues centering on where and how they are caught. 

A major concern is that the tuna industry uses destructive fishing techniques (no matter what type of tuna is being fished), which severely impact on the environment and other marine species, like turtles, sharks, seabirds and dolphins. Many of these species often end up as by-catch (unwanted catch) and either get tossed overboard or used as bait.

The tuna industry has adopted measures to try and limit the amount of by-catch, and the impacts on other marine mammals, through dolphin-safe or dolphin-friendly certification. Check for products that carry this labelling, as they are more likely to take other marine species into consideration.

Label liability
Labelling on tuna products can be misleading because often the labels don’t mention the type of tuna used or where it comes from. Unless these details are specified on the can, it is difficult to judge how sustainable a product is. If your products do mention the type of tuna used, opt for skipjack tuna, as it has healthier populations, and contains less mercury.

Are canned goods all that good?
There is no need to stop eating canned tuna, but rather be mindful of the impact this fishery has on the marine environment. Make sure to look for certified products and opt for species that come from more sustainable fisheries.

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