Canned tuna - not just the fish to worry about


I was going to continue my sort of series about what I had hidden away at the back of my pantry with cans of tuna. The aim being to talk about what to do with it, but having now 'researched' I've decided that that is a waste of time. I'm sure you all know the myriad of things you can do with cans of tuna - sandwiches, wraps, fish cakes, salads, pasta, fish pie, pasties, dips ... You just need the tiniest bit of imagination really, or a quick trawl through the net, so I thought I would look at the history.


Well I briefly looked at that - it's the second fish to be canned most - the first was my beloved sardines, but then the sardines diminished and so they turned to tuna - initially albacore tuna. Then yellowfin and so on. Tinned tuna as we all know is hugely popular. The canned fish section of a supermarket is almost all about tuna - not just plain tuna of course, but all sorts of flavoured tuna as well and all sorts of texture from thin bits of sandwich tuna, through chunks to almost whole bits of fish. Jamie is a fan and no doubt most other cooks are too. But then I came across a Greenpeace site whilst looking for tuna in Australia because I sort of knew that tuna was contentious. And indeed it is, although perhaps not quite as much here as in America. We seem to be doing a slightly better job.

Greenpeace, it was implied, put out an annual list of which tinned tuna you should buy and which not from a moral point of view. However, 2017 seems to be the last time they did this, although they do have a general guide as to what to look for. And this sort of falls into three different categories.


First of all the actual fish. As I said some tuna species are now either critically endangered - southern bluefin (well any kind of bluefin really) and big eye; nearly endangered - yellowfin and albacore and Ok - skipjack. So first of all check what species you have in your tin. Really we should only looking for skipjack.


Then how is it caught. A huge no to anything caught using Fish attracting devices - FAs. FADs are floating sort of nets that have things on them to attract the fish. Unfortunately this method also attracts other sea creatures like dolphins, sharks and turtles. Hence the claims you sometimes see that your tuna is dolphin safe. Which apparently is irrelevant for most Australian tuna as dolphins are not found in the same proximity as tuna in the central and western Pacific. Well that's what Greenpeace said anyway. The other two methods are purse seine which is basically a big net, or pole and line - which is the best. Purse seine is often combined with FADs - so make sure you have no FADs. And lastly, but not least, consider the people who catch the tuna. Apparently Thailand in particular uses slave labour. Yes slave labour - no pay, awful conditions, no freedom, etc. etc. I can't remember all of the other countries with dodgy reputations in this area but I remember, China, Russia, Taiwan and Spain. I think there was another Asian country in there too.


As to the ratings for what you can eat relatively safely - in order from the top down - Fish 4 Ever, John West, Safcol, Aldi, Sirena, Coles. IGA and Woolworths needed improvement and Sole Mare and Greenseas were not good at all. But as I say this was in 2017. I believe that Sole Mare denied all this and was contacting Greenpeace, and Woolworths was in talks with Greenseas which is Heinz/Kraft. So it is entirely possible that they have lifted their game since then although I could find nothing to confirm or deny that last 2017 listing. So really you just have to look at the labelling on the tins. And price, by the way, is no guide. Well it never is really is it?


It seems that Australia is actually in a better position on this than Europe and America, largely because of a group of Pacific Island fisheries going under the group name of Pasifical. For they have banded together to create ethical and sustainable fisheries. So if you see Pasifical on your tin you are in front.


It's a bit of a minefield shopping for food isn't it? If you care about sustainability, the environment, health and people that is. I do try but am probably not that consistent. Half the time I don't really know what I am looking for, or I am short of time so don't have time to read all the small - no make that tiny - print on the tins, or packets or jars.


Tuna are beautiful fish. They are big fish and so, for a final problem, near the top of the food chain, and therefore more likely to have higher quantities of mercury in them than small fish. So don't eat a lot of them.


Well don't eat a lot anyway. They really should be marketed as a rare delicacy rather than a regular sandwich filler and a quick and easy addition to all manner of dishes. Almost rubbish food.

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