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Vital Choice Tuna: Pure, Delicious, Sustainably Harvested
3/19/2004
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If you think you know tuna, think again. We offer our customers only the best, purest, sashimi-grade albacore tuna available, for sale as fresh-frozen portions, and canned.

All of our premium albacore tuna are individually troll-caught, and come from second-generation tuna fisherman Paul Hill, a neighbor here in Bellingham, Washington. Paul brings exceptional skill, dedication and experience to the task of bringing you the finest, purest tuna in the world. I’ll relate some of a recent interview with Paul after an overview of the world of tuna.

White versus light: telling tuna apart
Skipjack, bluefin and yellowfin (ahi) tuna are canned and sold as "light" tuna (off-white or pinkish in color). Albacore (longfin) is better-tasting and free of the fishy flavor associated with light tuna; it is the only tuna that is and can be labeled "white."

But even albacore varies in quality, depending on how and where it is caught, and how it is processed and packed.


Long-line versus troll-caught
Large commercial fishing boats typically catch their tuna using "long lines" that lay deep in the water and hold hundreds—even thousands—of hooks. These long lines often extend 10 miles from the boat, and are pulled only when full—typically a full 12 hours after being put in the water. As a consequence, the fish is not always fresh by the time it is landed.

Because the lines lay so deep, they catch older, larger (25-80 pound) albacore, which contain fewer omega-3s and more mercury. As tuna become older and larger, they accumulate more and more mercury from their diet of smaller fish. Most of the mercury in the ocean comes from coal-burning power plants and other industrial polluters. It is consumed by ocean microorganisms, and then works it way up the food chain to tuna and other predatory fish.

In contrast, tuna trollers like Paul Hill work almost like recreational fishermen, using shallow-depth, single-hook lines to catch one small tuna at a time. As soon as a fish is hooked by one of these smaller, often family-owned tuna boats, it is brought on board, bled, and flash-frozen within about two hours. To insure that Vital Choice tuna are the "tip of the pinnacle" as far as purity, we select only the smallest of Paul's catch—fish weighing no more than 12 lbs.

Processing matters
Large commercial canneries cook their tuna twice. First, they bake the fish whole on a rack, which results in a loss of beneficial omega-3 oils. Then it is de-boned and packed in cans along with flavorings and chemical additives (e.g., pyrophosphate or hydrolyzed casein). The cans are sealed, and the fish is cooked again. This process allows the companies to produce more product more quickly.

In contrast, our troll-caught tuna is packed into the can raw and cooked only once to preserve all its natural oils and flavor. This difference in processing methods means that canned troll-caught albacore contains several times more omega-3s per serving, compared with the major national brands.

Paul Hill: man on a marine mission
Lifelong fisherman Paul Hill is our exclusive albacore supplier. As he describes the process, "We land fish one at a time—as soon as they take the hook—and then freeze them right away. Our gear is specially designed for trolling, so we get virtually no bycatch of other species and present no threat to the albacore population" (The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch concurs that the troll albacore fishery is eminently sustainable, with no risk to other species).

From May through October, Paul sails from Puget Sound in his 80-foot troller, for long journeys to the north Pacific with his crew of three. The team takes either "short" 40-day trips to deep, cold waters, or longer 60-70 day trips to the vicinity of remote Midway Island, the famed World War II sea battle site that lies equidistant from Hawaii and the Aleutian islands, and thousands of miles from civilization. All of the albacore we get from Paul comes from his trips to these remote Pacific waters, where premium-quality albacore dwell. Even during the relatively calm summer-fall months, these trips are serious expeditions, beyond the reach of amateurs or the faint-hearted.

Once brought on board, whole tuna are placed in the flash-freezer within twenty minutes, and frozen solid within two hours. As Paul says, after a lifetime of eating experience, "Our flash-frozen tuna tastes fresher than any fresh tuna you—or I—can buy. The fish remains completely frozen between the time it is captured to the time it is canned or until Vital Choice customers take it out of their freezers. It’s almost as if you caught the fish yourself and cooked it on the spot. And, thanks to their higher oil content, these small albacore are moister and more flavorful than the large tuna caught by long-line boats."

Vital Choice is proud to support independent fisherman like Paul Hill, who are committed to providing premium quality, sustainably harvested seafood—and we're thrilled to be able to offer you premium tuna products that are unavailable anywhere else.

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