Tuna is one of those staples of childhood. How many hundreds of tuna sandwiches did you eat when you were a kid? But a study just recently came out testing tuna from all over the world. The results were precautionary for certain parts of the world, while others were far safer. Would you like to know which tuna is safest for your family? Keep reading. A few months ago, we talked about seafood safety and how to protect your family from all the toxic chemicals it can contain such as mercury and PCBs. Make sure to read up on what we discovered about seafood in general. But now even more information is available about that tuna sandwich or sushi roll.
Table of Contents
The Toxic Tuna Study
Scripps Institution of Oceanography study tested 117 yellowfin tuna catches from around the world and discovered that where the tuna was caught contributed to how many pollutants were found in the tuna. Here’s what they learned:
- Industrialized Areas Were More Toxic
“Tuna caught closer to more industrialized locations off North America and Europe can carry 36 times more pollutants… than the same species caught in more remote locations.”
- SOME areas were bad enough to trigger warnings.
90% of tuna caught in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and 60% from the Gulf of Mexico had enough toxins to issue health advisories about seafood for certain people, like pregnant women.
The toxins found included:
- Organochlorine pesticides (POPs)
- TICs: High levels of these might be linked to accumulating unsafe chemicals in the body in certain members of the population.
Where to Safely Buy Tuna
All of this means that the only way to truly safeguard your family when buying or ordering tuna, is to know where your fish came from. The closer the catch is to an industrialized area, the more contaminants will be in it. That means that although a fresh catch is the best tasting, it may not be the best for you if you live in such an area.
The study showed that of the 12 areas monitored, the 10 MOST contaminated fish came from:
- Northeast Pacific Ocean
- Gulf of Mexico
- Northeast Atlantic Ocean
You should avoid fish from these sources, as the rates for POPs in the fish were per gram were at levels in the 20-29 range. However, the fish with the least amount of POPs came from these areas:
- Northwest Pacific Ocean
- Southwest Pacific Ocean
- South China Sea
- The Indian Ocean
These oceans had levels significantly lower, in the 0.2-0.4 range. You should know that not all of the Pacific Ocean was tested, but this study demonstrates that remote fishing areas are likely safer than industrialized areas, meaning that a good portion of the Pacific Ocean may be cleaner.
Here’s a look at the numbers:
|Southeast Atlantic Ocean||3.22|
|North Pacific Ocean||3.40|
|North China Sea||0.71|
|Southeast Pacific Ocean||0.49|
|Northwest Atlantic Ocean||1.06|
|Gulf of Mexico||1.62|
|Northeast Pacific Ocean||7.86|
|Southwest Pacific Ocean||0.62|
|South China Sea||0.93|
|Northeast Atlantic Ocean||8.23|
|Northwest Pacific Ocean||0.68|
|Northwest Atlantic Ocean||0.21|
|Gulf of Mexico||0.35|
|Northeast Pacific Ocean||1.06|
|Southwest Pacific Ocean||0.05|
|South China Sea||0.10|
|Northeast Atlantic Ocean||0.18|
|Northwest Pacific Ocean||0.09|
|North Pacific Ocean||3.40|
|North China Sea||1.25|
|Southeast Pacific Ocean||0.55|
|Northwest Atlantic Ocean||3.82|
|Gulf of Mexico||8.08|
|Northeast Pacific Ocean||3.38|
|Southwest Pacific Ocean||0.22|
|South China Sea||0.69|
|Northeast Atlantic Ocean||6.52|
|Northwest Pacific Ocean||0.12|
|Northwest Atlantic Ocean||1.12|
|Gulf of Mexico||1.01|
|Northeast Pacific Ocean||0.44|
|Southwest Pacific Ocean||0.27|
|South China Sea||0.24|
|Northeast Atlantic Ocean||0.16|
|Northwest Pacific Ocean||0.14|
About Yellowfin Tuna
Yellowfin tuna can be found in:
- Ahi for steaks and sushi
- Some brands of canned light tuna
Seafood Watch already recommends yellowfin tuna fished with handlines from the Western Central Pacific Ocean as the safest. Western and Eastern Pacific as well as Hawaii are also included, as long as a safe method is used. Handlines are a way of fishing using bait attached to rods or poles.
Canned Yellowfin and Other Tuna Options
As far as canned light tuna, there are not many brands that use yellowfin and those that do, such as Starkist, get poor ratings for sustainability.
- Wild Planet sells Wild Yellowtail Fillets in Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, sustainably sourced from the North Pacific Ocean. It’s also Kosher and Project Non-GMO Verified.
- Crown Prince Natural also sells Yellowfin tuna in EVOO and spring water. They are Project Non-GMO Verified, Kosher, MSC Certified Sustainable, Dolphin Safe Certified and fished in Thailand.
- Pole & Line Caught Yellowfin Tuna is also MSC Certified Sustainable and is available only at Whole Foods Market. They are fished from the American Pacific Northwest and the Maldives.
- Safe Catch Tuna claims to have the lowest mercury of any brand. They test each tuna they catch for its mercury level. They feature skipjack and albacore tuna, ship in BPA free cans and practice sustainable fishing practices.
You should also know that while the chain ALDI does not get great marks from Greenpeace for sustainability, they also fish yellowfin tuna in areas that are more sustainable. They now have a “Trace Your Tuna” initiative, where you can look at the code on your tuna can and find where the tuna was fished.
You can also view this map from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department to view all the major fishing locations over the world.
Safer Sushi and Ahi Tuna
Getting safer sushi these days, especially tuna, can be a challenge. According to EDF, ahi tuna that is fished in the Western Central Pacific via handline fishing is the best. (They also list ahi from U.S. Atlantic ocean but I’m leaving it out in light of the new study.)
To choose the safest tuna, there are some sources you can use:
- Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics is an excellent source to buy your own ahi tuna. Sustainability is an important feature for this seafood supplier. They source their yellowfin tuna from an Indonesian fishery. Products include Ahi Tuna Poke Kit and Ahi Tuna Steaks.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch makes it easier for you to choose safer sushi options when you eat out. You can check for their restaurant partners in any state in the U.S., who are committed to providing safer fish options.
- You can also download the Seafood Watch App to get the latest – and safest – recommendations for seafood and sushi.
What You Need to Know About Yellowfin Tuna Sushi
According to a 2015 study, ahi tuna, which is popular fish used in sashimi and sushi rolls, mercury concentrations are rising in fished sourced from Hawaii. Unfortunately, that’s most likely a safer source with regard to the pollutants we discussed. Additionally, Greenpeace has raised concerns about the dwindling population of tuna in general and of yellowfin in particular.
That means in addition to be careful when, where and how you eat your sushi, you should also limit your yellowfin tuna intake to no more than once a month and avoid it altogether if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, or for your young children.
As we’ve mentioned before, fish is a wonderful source of Omega-3 and a healthy part of any good diet, but you need to exercise caution when feeding your family, purchasing fish and selecting sushi.