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Tuna Harvest Yields “Collateral Damage”
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“Dolphin-safe” fishing methods still endanger other species

by Randy Hartnell

If you think it’s environmentally safe to buy “dolphin-safe” tuna, think again.

Two major environmental groups—Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund—recently withdrew their support for “dolphin-safe” labeling of tuna, as a result of what they call the mainstream tuna industry's "unsustainable, wasteful and irresponsible" harvesting methods.

Commercial fishermen used to set their nets over pods of dolphin, knowing that the marine mammals often hover over large schools of skipjack and yellowfin tuna. The predictable result was that many dolphin were caught and killed as well.

Pressure groups succeeded in getting big tuna canners like Bumblebee and Starkist to stop purchasing fish caught in this manner: a tactic that put an end to the practice. However, dolphin-endangering netting practices have been replaced with an alternative that snags many sea turtles, sharks, and seabirds: including endangered species.

“Long lines” don’t discriminate

The problem is that most commercial tuna boats use a method known as long-lining, in which they deploy a line that’s up to 10 miles (or more) long, each festooned with hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks. In addition, their long-lines are pulled only when full—typically about 12 hours after being put in the water. As a consequence, the fish is not always fresh by the time it is landed.

Worse, because the long-lines lay so deep, they catch older, larger (25-80 pound) tuna, which contain fewer omega-3s by weight, and more toxic 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 food chain comes from coal-burning power plants and other industrial polluters).

Tests show that changing the shape of the long-line hooks would prevent turtle by-catch, but not reduce the number of tuna caught. However, the industry shows no sign of pressuring fishermen to make this move. And it is not clear that a change in hook shape would reduce the by-catch of seabirds or endangered sharks.

The simple solution: troll-caught Pacific albacore

The solution to this environmental problem lies in the way tuna are caught. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, trolling is the way to go, and the Northwest Pacific’s troll albacore fishery is eminently sustainable, with no risk to other species.

Lifelong fisherman Paul Hill is our exclusive tuna supplier, and he only troll-harvests young, premium quality albacore tuna. Unlike skipjack, bluefin and yellowfin tuna—which are canned and sold as "light" tuna (off-white or pinkish in color)—albacore (longfin) tuna is better-tasting and free of the fishy flavor associated with light tuna; it is the only tuna that can be legally labeled "white."

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.

Paul describes his methods this way: "We land fish one at a time—as soon as they take the hook. Our gear is specially designed for trolling, so we get virtually no by-catch of other species and present no threat to the albacore population."

Once brought on board, the whole tuna are placed in the flash-freezer within twenty minutes, and frozen solid within two hours.

Minimal processing to preserve premium flavor and nutrition

In addition to harvesting only the youngest, purest albacore, we take care to preserve its quality via minimal, “one-pass” processing. Large commercial canneries cook their tuna twice—once before canning and once after canning—which results in a loss of beneficial omega-3 oils, then can it along with flavorings and chemical additives (e.g., pyrophosphate or hydrolyzed casein).

In contrast, our troll-caught albacore 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 Vital Choice canned troll-caught albacore contains several times more omega-3s per serving, compared with the major national brands.

We guarantee you’ll taste the difference! PS: our tuna is certified Kosher by the Orthodox Union “OU” (with full rabbinical oversight).

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