I like canned tuna. A lot. My go-to store cupboard recipe is Lemon Tuna Pasta . Yet I keep hearing that to eat tuna is to support wide-spread environmental carnage. So what is the truth?
The tinned tuna industry in Australia is worth over $300 million/year. That’s a lot of tuna. When it comes to selecting a tin of tuna, two of the most important points to consider are the fish species in the tin and the method employed to catch the fish.
There are four main tuna species used in tinned products in Australia, with each species being under a different level of environmental pressure. The four species are: Bigeye (Vulnerable), Yellowfin (Near threatened), Albacore (Near Threatened) and Skipjack (Least Concern). So what you want in your tin is Skipjack tuna.
The most popular fishing methods used to catch tuna are: purse seines, purse seines in conjunction with Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD) and Pole and Line. Different catch methods have differing levels of bycatch associated with them. Bycatch refers to the unwanted marine animals caught whilst fishing, and usually includes turtles, sharks, dolphins and other larger marine animals.
Purse seines are giant nets that encircle schools of fish. The nets are are drawn together, much like a purse, and allow the catch to be hauled onto the boat. When used alone, purse seines have a bycatch rate of less than 1%.
Fish will naturally congregate around inanimate objects within the ocean. Commercial fishing exploits this natural behaviour, using devices such as large buoys or floats (FAD’s) to attract fish to an area. The fish are then netted, usually with purse seines. The use of the FAD assists to increase the size of the catch. When purse seines are used in conjunction with FAD’s, the bycatch rate increases to around 2% and can be as high as 8%.
Pole and Line is one of the most sustainable commercial fishing methods as each fish is caught individually. Think fishing with grandpa or dad on a much larger scale. This method virtually eliminates bycatch. Selecting a tin of tuna with Pole and Line caught fish is therefore the most environmentally responsible choice.
As well as the type of fish and the catch method, other issues you need to consider when buying your tin of tuna include the area the tuna was sourced from, the commitment of a company to sustainable fishing practices, the labeling information i.e. how much information is a company willing to give you about their practices, and whether a company undertakes unregulated or illegal practices.
So right about now, you’re wondering how on earth you are going to remember all this next time you’re standing in front of the supermarket display. In 2012, Greenpeace Australia Pacific released the 4th edition of their Canned Tuna Ranking Guide, which ranked 10 brands of commonly available tinned tuna from good to bad. The work has been done for you. All you need to do is download the app and next time you’re in the supermarket all the information will be at your fingertips to help you choose.
For me, this means that in order to be more environmentally responsible I need to abandon my favourite brand of tuna, Sirena, and select a better option. Whilst this means a switch to the Safcol brand, it does mean that Lemon Tuna Pasta can stay on the table in our house.
Images from Greenpeace Australia Pacific (except for the dodgy tuna pasta one which is all my own).