Thursday, August 5, 2010

A letter to

Another article about mercury in albacore that ignores the differences between troll-caught and long-lined fish. So here's my response:

Articles concerning mercury in fish often overlook the difference between troll-caught and long-lined fish. And it's an important difference to those of us making a living catching tuna. Many articles tend to oversimplify (leading to uninformative conclusions) or list the tuna types in a thick not-so-enlightening paragraph. Both of these approaches do little to help consumers make an informed decision on what kind of albacore to buy – while at the same time pass on incorrect information that hurts family fishing businesses like ours.

Challenges like off-shore corporations, cheap foreign labor, unsustainable fishing regulations outside US waters … they’re hitting our industry hard. But our jobs are made even harder when articles and news reports continue to muddy the waters concerning albacore and mercury. Troll-caught albacore and long-lined albacore do not have the same levels of mercury. Troll-caught albacore is lower mercury.

Writers and reporters can easily differentiate between types of albacore by asking two simple questions.

What species of tuna are you talking about?

Albacore tuna is actually one of several species of what we familiarly lump together as ‘tuna’. Often writers lump all tuna species together and cry, “mercury - stay away!” But this is like warning consumers from the entire nightshade family because belladonna is poisonous, forgetting that the tomatoes we love to eat or the petunias we put into pretty flower baskets are part of the same family.

Once you’ve determined the fish you’re talking about is albacore tuna, it’s time to learn a little more.

How is the albacore tuna caught?

If it is caught by long-line, it will most likely not say so on the can. These albacore are caught on long long lines full of hooks that are left to sit deeper down in the ocean. Long-lining results in by-catch and fish with higher mercury levels. Some cans may say ‘line caught’, but unless it also states that it is U.S. in origin they most likely mean long-line.

Troll-caught albacore: these albacore are caught one-at-a-time by hook-and-line by people like my parents, who are at sea right now standing on the back deck of their boat waiting for the fish-online bell to ring. Their lures skitter near the surface of the ocean, attracting young albacore who have not had time to accumulate as much mercury in their bodies. Bycatch is almost nonexistent. The Marine Sustainability Council has rated our fishery sustainable.

How can you know if the albacore tuna is troll-caught?

1. Look for the MSC logo on the cans (ours will have them son)

2. Look for the words ‘troll-caught’ or ‘caught one-at-a-time by hook-and-line’

3. Look for albacore caught by US fishermen

4. Look for a higher fat content in the fish

5. Look for albacore canned in micro (or custom) canneries

For more information:

On troll-fishing

On mercury, selenium and a mercury/albacore study done specifically on troll-caught albacore (FDA studies do not factor in catch-methods)

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