We offer our customers only the best, purest, sashimi-grade albacore tuna available, both canned and as as fresh-frozen portions.
To learn why our canned albacore tastes so much better than national brands, see "Careful canning”, below.
The Vital Choice difference: Tuna individually troll-caught by hand, and frozen on board
All of our albacore tuna is individually troll-caught by second-generation tuna fisherman Paul Hill, a neighbor here in Bellingham, Washington.
Tuna "trollers” like Paul work almost like recreational fishermen, using shallow-depth, single-hook lines to catch one small tuna at a time. Once brought on board, the tuna are placed in the flash-freezer within twenty minutes, and frozen solid within two hours.
As Paul says, "Our flash-frozen tuna tastes fresher than any fresh tuna you can buy. The fish remains completely frozen between the time it's 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.”
And as he points out, his methods ensure sustainability: "Our gear is specially designed for trolling, so we get virtually no bycatch of other species and present no threat to the albacore population.”
For more about his methods, see "Paul Hill: man on a marine mission", below.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch agrees that the troll albacore fishery of which Paul is a member is eminently sustainable, with no risk to other species … an opinion ratified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which has certified the North Pacific troll albacore fishery as a sustainable one.
To ensure that Vital Choice tuna are as pure as possible, we select only the smallest of Paul's catch—fish weighing no more than 14 lbs.
Careful canning protects nutrition, texture, and flavor
Large tuna canneries do something very bad for flavor, texture and omega-3 levels ... namely, they cook their tuna twice:
- First, they bake the fish whole on a rack, which makes it easier and cheaper to remove the meat, but drains many of the omega-3s.
- The meat is then 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. (They don't have a choice ... fish must be cooked after it's in the can, to ensure safety. But that's the only cooking our tuna gets.)
Cooking tuna twice like this yields lower costs and higher profits ... but it yields a mushy, fishy product that's substantially lower in omega-3s.
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 our canned troll-caught albacore contains several times more omega-3s per serving, compared with the major national brands.
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.
Some of the mercury in the ocean comes from coal-burning power plants and other industrial polluters, but a large proportion comes from undersea volcanic vents.
It is consumed by ocean microorganisms, and then works its way up the food chain to tuna and other predatory fish.
Paul Hill: man on a marine mission
Paul brings exceptional skill, dedication and experience to the task of bringing you the finest, purest tuna in the world.
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 crew takes either "short" 40-day trips to deep, cold waters, or longer 60-70 day trips to the vicinity of remote Midway Island, which 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 fainthearted.
Vital Choice is proud to support independent fisherman who are committed to providing premium quality, sustainably harvested seafood.