The search for sustainable tuna



I can remember the first time I cooked tuna.  I went to my local Whole Foods and asked for a tuna steak and a suggestion on how to cook it.  The fishmonger went through a lengthy recipe of marinating and seasoning and searing that had my eyes crossing.  When he walked to the back room an older gentleman that was working with him came out, leaned forward and put his hand up as if to whisper a secret.

All you have to do is bring the tuna to room temp, spread wasabi on it like mayonnaise and roll it in black and white sesame. Add a pat of butter and some olive oil to the pan and get it screaming hot. Sear it for a minute or less on each side.

I went home and tried this method. It was crunchy and crusty and nutty on the outside with the signature taste of wasabi just underneath but without the heat intensity. I could cut it with a fork.  And I was hooked.

At the time I didn’t notice what kind it was or where it was caught.

Now, looking back with a focus on sustainability, I wonder.

So I did some research on tuna in general.  Bluefin tuna is overfished period.  The concern with the Bluefin is that they migrate great distances, passing through many countries’ territories that may not have the same conservation policies as the US.  These guys can live up to 30 years but most are caught before they can reproduce.

Then I thought, what about the Yellowfin or Albacore tuna?

Yellowfin tuna only live to about seven years.  They aren’t as overfished as Bluefin and they reproduce faster.  The Albacore are used mostly for canning but can also be eaten as sashimi.  What actually stood out when I was researching these breeds was that there are a few more issues to keep in mind aside from what type of fish you are looking for.

What we need to keep in mind is where and how they are caught.

Avoid buying from any retailer or wholesaler that endorses the use of longlines where the fisherman strings a very long line out with hooks periodically along the way.  This is also the issue with purse seine fishing.  For this method large nets with a drawstring on the bottom are used.  They surround the school of fish and when the drawstring on the bottom of the net is pulled in, it creates almost a “purse” so the fish can’t swim out the bottom.  The problem with these two methods is it catches everything that comes in the path (including endangered species such as porpoises and sea turtles).  Any sea life that is not targeted is discarded.

The best and most sustainable methods are use of a harpoon or by rod and reel.  This latter approach involves a similar method you and I might use.  You can understand why commercial fishermen probably don’t want to use conventional rod and reel as much, since it’s definitely more time consuming, and there is no cost benefit to them, however, an unwanted or undersized fish can typically be thrown back resulting in minimal “bycatch”.

With all this new information what is a consumer to do?

When shopping for fish at the supermarket there are a few options:

Dining out options:

I know I learned a few new things through this research and I hope you did too.  I look forward to hearing any questions or comments!