-Western Fishboat Owners Association
Mercury in the environment and in the fish we eat is a serious issue, however, both consumers and small scale US fisheries lose when sweeping generalizations are made about mercury in albacore tuna. A Consumer Reports’ study that appears in the January 2011 issue of the magazine refers only to ‘albacore/white tuna’ and does not differentiate between different catch methods or size of the albacore being tested.
“Not making a distinction between how and where albacore are caught is misleading and ignores good science that shows US troll-caught albacore mercury levels to be similar to that of ‘light tuna’ which both the FDA and Consumer Reports list as safe,” says Wayne Heikkila the Executive Director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA), a non-profit representing about 400 small fishing vessel owners and supporting businesses on the West coast.
Dr. Michael Morrissey of Oregon State University Seafood Research Laboratory completed a study in 2005 that shows troll-caught albacore to be significantly lower in mercury content than larger, long-line caught albacore.
To the growing number of small US custom canners, ‘albacore/white tuna’ means these smaller, younger, lower-mercury, troll-caught albacore caught by US fishermen. Labeled as “US-caught” or “troll-caught”, some of these brands are available nationally and offer batch-tested, low mercury albacore. “By choosing local brands not only are consumers making a healthful choice but they’re also supporting the US fishing community,” says Heikkila.
The Consumer Reports test sample comprised of large supermarket brands which use foreign, long-line caught ‘albacore/white tuna’ for canning. The results and subsequent consumption recommendations for younger women, children and pregnant women are based on their findings of mercury content in larger, long-line caught albacore, not US troll-caught albacore.
The reason West Coast albacore’s mercury tests are so low? Albacore are highly migratory, and only the younger fish, 3-4 year olds with lower mercury levels, swim in colder Northwest waters. These albacore generally weigh 12-20 pounds when caught.
Tuna is the second most popular seafood in the US, according to a 2009 poll by the National Marine Fisheries Services. “Canned tuna is a convenient, affordable source of protein that has the added benefit of high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which have many, many health benefits,” says Heikkila. “We believe that the benefits of consuming quality seafood far outweigh any risk for the vast majority of people, and that the hyperbole associated with some of these mercury campaigns does more to damage consumers’ health by driving them to less healthful foods,” he adds.
US and Canadian troll-caught albacore is listed on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Super Green List which names seafood that is both ‘good for you and good for the environment’. The West Coast troll albacore fishery is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Longline albacore, caught elsewhere, is not.