No question that canned tuna is a favorite staple and a perfect option for a picnic, quick lunch or kayak trip. But over the years many consumers have come to realize that not all cans of tuna are safe: in some cases the product is a hazard for human safety because it contains high levels of mercury, and sometimes the tuna itself is endangered because of non-sustainable fishing practices. Very often both problems are to be found in one single can.
So why bother serving canned tuna altogether? Why not simply ban it from our camp kitchen? Because finding the right tuna will give you an excellent source of proteins and of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Not to mention the fact that it is delicious, inexpensive and so easy to prepare. So it might be worth a little extra effort to figure out which cans to pick and which ones to avoid for your safety and the planet's while, at the same time, enjoying its many advantages.
Sustainable tuna is a must
When it comes to sustainable tuna fishing practices both the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program and Greenpeace will recommend that we consumers stay away from longline fishing methods and rather pick tuna that has been caught using troll or pole gear (line caught) either from the United States or Canadian Pacific waters. Albacore (white) tuna or Skipjack (chunk light) are good options as long as they come from reputable sources. It is usually written on the package to help you chose the best options.
Why is this so important? Because according to an in-depth report from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, most tuna from elsewhere in the world is caught using purse seine nets with fish aggregation devices (FADs), a method that is sure to cause high levels of bycatch including sharks, juvenile tuna from vulnerable stocks, marine turtles and birds. This consists of encircling a school of tuna in huge nets (typically 200 meters deep by 1.6 km long). Another reason to choose tuna from northern Pacific US and Canadian waters is because some tuna stocks elsewhere in the world are not in such a healthy state as the ones above-mentioned (except for Hawaii, where overfishing is not an issue).
The good, the bad and the ugly
Interestingly, Greenpeace Canada has recently published a survey of 14 Canadian brands of canned tuna (some of which available in the US) and how they rank in terms of responsible fishing techniques, whereas Greenpeace USA recommends a few brands that are well-known for their sourcing of environmentally-friendly caught tuna. Among them, one can find Whole Food Store and Safeway's private labels. Costco, Target and Walmart are also said to have taken serious actions towards responsible seafood sourcing.
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As for mercury levels; The FDA/EPA gives the following advice: women who are or might become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children should consume no more than 3 portions of 6 ounces of Albacore tuna (white tuna) a month. Canned light Skipjack tuna (chunk light) is considered a safer choice. Adults can safely eat a 6 ounce portion once a week.
Acording to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, Albacore tuna caught in the northern Pacific remains smaller than the Albacore caught in tropical waters. That's important because the bigger the tuna the more mercury it will absorb. This is also true for marlin or for swordfish. But it is not always easy to find canned Albacore with a label that actually indicates whether or not the product you are buying is a smaller fish or not. That's why it is wise to follow the guidelines mentioned above. But all of this is good news because we still can eat canned tuna safely! So let's pack a few environmentally-friendly cans for our next paddling trip and try these easy recipes!
Tuna and Chickpeas Salad (4 portions)
Mix all ingredients together and serve.
Tuna Cracked Wheat Pilaf
In a large pot bring broth to a boil. Remove from heat, add cracked wheat thyme and parsley, cover and let stand for 20-30 minutes or until broth is almost completely absorbed. In the meantime, sauté celery and onion in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add almonds, corn, cracked wheat and tuna and mix well. Serve.
Mexican Tuna Pizzas
In a bowl, mix avocado, scallions and tomato with lime juice, cumin, and hot sauce. Spread on the pita as you would for tomato pizza sauce. Add tuna, black olives and cheese. Put on a grill over hot coals (or in a hot skillet) and heat until cheese is melted. Serve.
Tuna-Mushroom Camper's Shepherd's Pie
In a large pot, sauté onion, bell pepper and mushrooms in olive oil over high heat for about 10 minutes. Season to taste. Add cream of mushrooms and milk and heat until bubbly and hot. Mix in tuna and garlic. Dress mashed potatoes onto 4 plates, add mushroom-tuna-vegetable sauce and serve.
Thick Tuna Chowder
In a large pot, cook leeks, scallions, potato, carrot and celery in olive oil or margarine over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add flour, mix well and pour in broth, milk and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add tuna and tomato, mix well and simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste, add remaining scallions and serve.
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