Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What’s all this talk about canned tuna from Sausalito?

By: Cecily Costa

There is a new tuna on the market (Safe Catch) that is getting some buzz thru a lot of radio ads and marketing regarding Mercury testing.

I have been asked by a few customers and sales rep about them so I would like to share what I know. For the sake of this article, I will compare them to our highest quality and domestically produced albacore tuna on the market—Oregon Seafoods.
  • Safe Catch is not domestically produced. Their office is in Marin, and the tuna is packed in Thailand. They produce “Elite” (Skipjack) and Albacore.
  • Safe Catch albacore tuna is harvested in northern Pacific and southern Pacific oceans. Oregon Seafoods is a domestic product fished off California, Oregon and Washington waters.
  • Safe Catch proudly states it is high in Omega 3’s and lists a fat content of 1.5 grams per serving. Oregon Seafoods fat content is 6 grams per serving. The higher the fat, the better! Higher fat content also reflects the content of healthy Omega 3’s.
  • Safe Catch markets their tuna as better protein at 35 grams per can—that’s 14 g per 2 oz serving. Oregon Seafoods has 16 grams of protein for the same size serving.
Mercury testing each individual tuna may seem like a game changer, but it does not tell you the whole story. It seems they have new proprietary equipment to test each piece of tuna for Mercury, which is different. Currently, the industry standard is to test schools of fish on a regular basis.

They claim their albacore testing is 3x stricter than the US FDA’s 1.0 parts per million (ppm). That would come out to .33 ppm. Currently the industry standard for albacore is .33 ppm. Below is a chart from The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute) in New York, a well respected non-profit sustainable seafood program (more at www.safinacenter.org).

The Safina Center also discovered that sunlight in shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean can destroy up to 80% of methyl-mercury in fish. Conversely, in the deep oxygen-poor water, bacteria are converting significant amounts of mercury to the problematic methylmercury. This is why fish that live and feed in deeper waters have more mercury in their system.

The industry now believes that as long as there is MORE selenium than mercury in tuna, you are fine. Basically, it is Mother Nature’s way of taking care of balancing things out.

Both the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (www.wpcouncil.org) and the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF www.canadianalbacoretuna.org) have published information regarding selenium, see chart below. 

So, how does mercury get into our food supply? Mercury is naturally occurring from volcanic activity and weathering of rocks, and human activities like mining and fuel. Once released, mercury enters air, water and soil, and moves from one to another until it comes to rest in sediments or landfills.

Albacore tuna typically live up to 10-12 years in the warmer south Pacific. Domestic (north Pacific) albacore tuna is caught in more shallow, colder waters where the fish harvested are typically 3-4 years old and weigh 7-24 lbs...too young to have accumulated harmful levels of Mercury. Oregon Seafood's albacore is between 3-5 years old.

All fish have some trace amounts of mercury, most fish have less than 0.1 parts per million (ppm). The general rule of thumb is that the larger or older the fish, the higher the level of methylmercury in its flesh. Up until recently, mercury content of tuna was averaged for all species, making no distinction between small, young albacore from the cold north Pacific and the much larger, older tuna from the warm south Pacific. So Oregon State University researchers sought to compare mercury content among all the major commercial species of tuna. They found that small, young albacore tuna caught off the Pacific Northwest coast have low mercury levels, below most commercial brands and below FDA guidelines. In fact one test by the Oregon Albacore Commission and the Western Fishboat Owners Association had mercury levels at 0.14 ppm (that is HALF what the other tuna is advertising).

Traceability—it is difficult for the FDA to police the tuna industry worldwide. In many areas it is self-governed. The strictest controls for responsibly fished tuna comes from domestic producers (fished, packed and processed in the US). Fish that is harvested in Asia and India is at best spot checked for origin, species and by-catch. Oregon Seafoods is proudly fished, produced and packed in the US. They buy directly from family fishing boats that take care of their catch. They pay living and fair wages to their employees and fisherman. All of their product is traceable down the to boat and day. They don’t have extra marketing dollars for radio or print ad campaigns. The put their monies into producing the best tuna available on the market.

I did a cutting of a 5 ounce can of Safe Catch and another domestic albacore tuna the other day. The most surprising result was the drained weight of the Safe Catch was 4 ounces. The drained weight of the other brand was 4.8 ounces. And the Safe Catch tuna was more expensive.

Let me show you the difference of Oregon Seafoods and tell you who has it on their menu. Contact me today for a cutting. See and taste the difference!