Thursday, September 04, 2014

Consumer Reports' Warnings on Tuna Get It Wrong

You may have seen articles in the press recently citing a study from Consumer Reports that analyzed recommendations from the FDA calling for Americans to increase fish consumption in their diets. Among other things, Consumer Reports got a little screamy over the issue of mercury levels in tuna, stating, "Consumer Reports disagrees with the recommendations from the FDA and EPA on how much tuna women and children may eat. (We don’t think pregnant women should eat any.)" [Emphasis theirs - KAB]

Fishing boat in Ilwaco, WA.

As I've stated here many times, lumping all tuna into one full-of-mercury category is wrong from both a health and a factual standpoint. And yes, I know, parsing complicated issues when speaking to the public is difficult, but facts are facts, and fear-mongering headlines negatively impact thousands of fishing families in Oregon and Washington and hundreds of coastal communities that depend on the fishing industry for their survival.

Unloading albacore in Warrenton.

The Western Fishboat Owners Association, which represents about 400 of these fishing families, responded to the barrage of bad press this way:

"The U.S. albacore troll/pole fleet is a small boat fleet of hook and line vessels generally 35-75 ft. in length, that are family-owned and operated and fish for albacore tuna from July through October off the west coast, mainly Oregon and Washington. The fishery is certified by Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as sustainable and well managed and also appears on the "Green" list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Our fleet lands on average 30,000,000 pounds each year with about half exported to Europe and Asia. The fleet catches 2 to 4-year-old albacore (10-25 pounds) with an average of about 13 pounds year after year. Extensive mercury testing has been [done] over the last 10 years through Oregon State University as well as by buyers and exporters. All recent mercury testing has shown very small levels of Hg [mercury] in the fish well below FDA standards of 1.0 ppm and well below Canadian guidelines of .5 ppm (The Canadian government has recently removed their 'no eat' recommendation from their local troll albacore caught off the U.S. and Canada.)"

Fresh-packed West Coast albacore tuna.

What should you do when you go to the store to shop for tuna? First, look for the blue MSC label or, better yet, read the fine print on the label. The only ingredient should be albacore tuna—though some also add salt—because it's fresh-packed, so the fish cooks in its own juices (left) eliminating the need for added oil or water. If it has oil or water, it's almost guaranteed to come from large fishing vessels that ply the deep southern Pacific ocean. These gigantic vessels catch older, much larger albacore that have lived for years in the mercury-polluted ocean waters (a whole outrage on its own).

Good local brands to look for are Sweet Creek processed by Paul and Judy Fuller in Elmira, Oregon; Sacred Sea from the Goché family in Coquille; and Skipanon from the Kujala family of Warrenton.

Top photo from Wild Pacific Albacore. Read my article on the Oregon albacore fishery, which goes into more detail about how albacore is caught and processed.

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