Rethinking Tuna—what’s OK to eat, and what’s not

Tuna. It’s a staple in a lot of peoples’ diets. Heck, even those that “think” they don’t like seafood, will eat tuna. Here in the U.S., canned tuna is the number two consumed seafood, preceded by shrimp and followed by salmon. And though it’s true, not as much fresh tuna is eaten as canned tuna, it’s still one of the preferred choices among restaurant goers. But. While a rose is a rose is a rose might be true, a tuna is a tuna is a tuna, couldn’t be further from the truth.

tuna_albacore.pngAlbacore tuna has a higher omega-3 content than its smaller cousins—making it a heart-healthy choice—but it also has around three times as much mercury (as most larger fish have a higher level of mercury than smaller fish) which is why young children and pregnant women need to be cautious. Legally, here in the U.S. albacore is the only species that can be labeled “white” tuna. Found mostly in the warm Pacific waters, its thick, “meat-like” texture makes it a great option for those who tend to prefer steak over seafood.

Canned chunk white tuna is the smaller, flakier pieces of albacore

tuna_yellowfin.pngYellowfin tuna, also known as ahi, run in the warm waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic and are smaller than albacore. The bright red flesh turns an ashy-gray when cooked but this species is often served partially raw—just seared briefly—and as sashimi in Asian cuisine.

Ahi is the Hawaiian name for yellowfin tuna

tuna_skipjack.pngSkipjack tuna is the most commonly used species for canning. And, although it’s rare to find it in a retail environment, if you do, don’t shy away. The flavor and texture is similar to yellowfin when cooked and can be excellent when grilled. Note, I recommend cooking through and through rather than searing.

Canned chunk light tuna is skipjack


Bluefin tuna is a delicacy. But I won’t eat it and I stand with the hundreds of purveyors and like-minded chefs who refuse to offer the fish in their restaurants: “The culinary community has a key interest in the recovery of all bluefin tunas, and particularly Pacific bluefin tuna,” the chefs stated. “Preserving healthy populations of bluefin tunas in the ocean is a prerequisite to bringing these delicious fish back to the menu.”

Most bluefin tuna are on the Seafood Watch avoid list: “The stocks are depleted, and overfishing is still occurring. The catch of turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, sharks and other vulnerable species is also a critical concern. In addition, the management measures to help bluefin stocks recover and reduce the catch of endangered, threatened or overfished species are rated highly ineffective.” Read the entire Atlantic Ocean Bluefin Tuna Seafood Watch Report.

However, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Watch has this to say about bluefin tuna:

  • Although Pacific-wide populations are well below target levels, U.S. wild-caught Pacific bluefin tuna is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under rebuilding measures that limit harvest by U.S. fishermen.
  • Based on the information in the 2017 stock assessment, NOAA Fisheries has determined that the western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock has an unknown overfished status. Read more from on bluefin tuna.

Roughly 97 percent of Pacific bluefin tuna have vanished ~ International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas

But the bluefin debate isn’t isolated to the American market—far from it. In an article earlier this year, The Japan Times, reported on lagging policy and lack of sustainable practices that have led to overfishing of bluefin tuna and other species: “When I found out about the situation in Japan, I felt like it was time for people to know more about the issue,” says Chefs for the Blue core member Fumio Yonezawa of Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Tokyo. “I have two kids, and I would love to share our beautiful seafood with future generations.” Yonezawa, along with some of Tokyo’s top chefs, scientists, and others have founded Chefs for the Blue to help raise awareness and bring positive change to the industry.

Bottom line … until there’s a significant increase in the population of bluefin, and a dramatic and measurable shift in fishing management of the species, don’t eat bluefin tuna. And don’t support restaurants that offer it. Wait. It will rebound. It will be available again, and when it is, you can enjoy the delicacy that it is in good conscience. This is part one of a three-part series on tuna. Next up, how best to grill tuna and the truth about dolphin-safe labeling. PHOTO: Courtesy the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Tuna sketches: NOAA,

Coming up later this week on the blog … the making of a legacy and the story behind McDonald’s Filet o’ Fish sandwich PLUS a new recipe for Alaskan salmon on the grill!

Want more from The Midwest Mermaid? Be sure to follow along here, and on Instagram for all the latest in seafood news and chews | @shaunanosler

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

DISCLAIMER: I’m a writer and an editor. And I try my best to make sure every post is articulate and free from errors. However, being that I edit my own work—and it’s next to impossible to properly edit your own work—I admit, occasionally there may be an error or two I miss. But doing so doesn’t make me an idiot so don’t be mean. Just smile, pat yourself on the back for finding an error and be glad you’re not the only one who makes mistakes sometimes … yes, even mermaids slip up every now and then. xoxox

Posted by

Hey there. I’m Shauna—a West Coast transplant in the landlocked state of Indiana … when I moved here I missed the beaches, the mountains, the desert, the rivers … and it took me a while to find places nearby that paralleled my old stomping grounds. BUT. Now that I’ve lived here for over 15 years, I’ve had time to explore the region and you know what? It’s amazing. There’s so much to do—from skiing in northern Michigan to relaxing lakeside in southern Kentucky to rocking the nightlife in one of the many metropolitan areas. And I love it here. I really do. BUT. I do miss the sea … and the sand and the rush of the waves … the smell of seawater … even the sting of too much sun after a day spent lollygagging at the beach. And I miss the constant supply of seafood and shellfish and riverfish? About that … since I’ve moved to the Midwest I’ve noticed that a lot of people here don’t consider fish that come from the river seafood … I’m not sure I agree, but hence the new word I’ve created, “riverfish” … time will tell if Webster picks it up ; ) So my blog, Seafood is The New Black, is my way of bringing a little bit of sea life (or is it sealife?) to the Midwest. And over on Seafood in the Circle City, you can read up on my favorite Indianapolis restaurants that serve seafood, and serve it well. As you read along, you’ll find all kinds of information … some that you might find more useful than others—and some, you might just find amusing … or not. Either way, and if nothing else, I hope you leave my little space here on the world wide web a little refreshed and maybe even a little inspired to bring a little bit of the ocean home with you. (Yes, I did use the word “little” four times in one sentence … it’s OK … mermaids like to repeat themselves.) Cheers! The Midwest Mermaid Oh, and if your curious, yes, I do actually write for a living … if you want to know about the organizations I work with and the publications where you can find my land legs, swim on over to the “Portfolio” tab … and thanks for visiting.

5 thoughts on “Rethinking Tuna—what’s OK to eat, and what’s not

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s