Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where have all the tuna gone?

National Geographic Photo by Brian J. Skerry

As I sat in the salon chair yesterday gazing despondently at my multiple chins, I decided it's time to get serious about losing the extra five pounds I've accumulated over the past year. I know what I need to do--stop cheating and break out the salad! No more excuses!

Ok, you're thinking....what the blazes does all this have to do with tuna? Well, I'll tell you. Tuna is one of my favorite "go to" foods for getting on track to lose weight. I like to top my lunch salads with it, right out of the can, for a nice does of healthy, lowfat protein and Omega 3's. Looks like I'm not alone: last year nearly 6 million tons of tuna were caught worldwide. That's a lot of weight-watching ladies!

Naturally, I was disturbed to see an article entitled "Tuna in Peril" in the November 16 issue of TIME Magazine. Apparently our seemingly insatiable appetite for tuna--and resulting overfishing--are causing major problems. In fact, some species of tuna have become unsustainable, even endangered. I encourage you read the article in its entirety.

Since this blog focuses on both eating healthy and sustainably, and we devote a fair amount of space to meat and poultry, I think it's time to give fish a fair shake. So here are some frightening fish facts:

Stocks of bluefin tuna (especially popular for sushi/sashimi) are especially low (National Geographic lists it as endangered). In fact, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that atlantic bluefin that spawn in the Mediterranean could disappear from those waters as early as 2012! Yikes! But it's not just bluefin that are in peril; yellowfin and many other species are in bad shape, too. The article says, "of the world's 19 nonbluefin commercial tuna stocks, half are overfished or at risk of going in that direction, according to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). "

What can we do? First, be aware of where the tuna you buy is coming from, how it was caught, and where it stands (or rather, swims) on the ecological scale. According to the TIME article, "major canneries that have signed on to the ISSF, such as BumbleBee, StarKist, and Chicken of the Sea, are trying to guarrantee that the fish going into their cans come from legal and traceable sources." well, that sounds promising to me. So check labels, and look for the logo of the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries and companies worldwide.

Two additional suggestions from TIME:

Talk to your chef - Let sushi chefs know that customers want fish from sustainable sources.

Support marine reserves - make a donation to programs fun by Greenpeace or the WWWF.

A personal note: I've been buying Oregon's Choice Gourmet premium albacore canned tuna from my local health food store since I discovered it about a year ago. I feel good knowing that it's caught in the U.S. by a very small fishing operation in Oregon (see list of eco-best fish, below). It's pricey, but I think it's worth it. It's solidly packed in the can, and goes a long way. Not to mention the fact that it's delicious. Tough to go back to Chicken of the Sea once you've tasted this stuff!

Looking beyond the desperate plight of tuna, it makes sense to be knowledgeable--and picky--when selecting any type of fish at the supermarket, or ordering in a restaurant. Excellent resources can be found online to help guide you. Download a pocket guide to sustainable fish and keep it in your purse or wallet. I found one on the Environmental Defense Fund's site: Monterey Aquarium in California is another excellent resource.

Here's a partial list from the EDF site:

Eco-Best Fish:

Char, Arctic (farmed)
Crab, Dungeness
Oysters (farmed)
Sablefish (Alaska, Canada)
Salmon, wild (Alaska)
Sardines, Pacific (U.S.)
Shrimp, pink (Oregon)
Trout, rainbow (farmed)
Tuna, albacore (U.S., Canada)


Clams (wild)
Cod, Pacific (trawl)
Crab, snow/tanner
Flounder/sole (Pacific)
Lobster, American/Maine
Scallops, sea (U.S., Canada)
Shrimp (U.S. wild)
Tilapia (Latin America)
Tuna, canned light


Chilean sea bass
Orange roughy
Rockfish (trawl)
Salmon, farmed/Atlantic
Swordfish (imported)
Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic)
Tuna, bigeye/yellowfin (imported longline)
Tuna, bluefin

So folks, next time you see bigeye, yellowfin, or bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, or any of the other eco-worst fish on a dinner menu, just say NO. And, it doesn't hurt to let the chef know that you'd prefer eco-friendly choices instead!

Lastly, kudos to TIME for its excellent reporting and coverage of topics like this. If you missed the excellent cover story, "The Real Cost of Cheap Food," from a few months back, check it out!

Make your voice heard!


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