Let’s Talk Tuna – Eating Responsibly Without Harming Our Ocean Friends (except the tuna, of course) – Part I.

Let me introduce you to a friend of mine.  This is Whitetail, a yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares).

Not your sandwich.

I had the pleasure of diving with him (?) during the 2015 Fins Attached expedition to Isla Guadalupe.  Ostensibly there to dive with great white sharks, the tuna became a welcome side show.   If you were to make a comparison to land carnivores, great whites would be the lions, tuna would be the wolves.  In behavior that surprised me, the tuna would often force the great whites away from the bait, in a behavior called “mobbing”.

They’re not exactly the most expressive or differentiated of fish, which is why Whitetail, with his unique. damaged caudal fin became a favorite of mine.  We’d hit the cages, and after a while, the tuna would show up, and there would be Whitetail, swimming about in that skittish way schooling fish do.   He’d be at the surface, or he’d follow us down in the submersible cage,  in an attempt to snap up a scrap of meat or maybe using the cage as a sheltering waypoint if one of the sharks decided to get snappy.  He was a welcome visitor, and worried about him when I didn’t see him along with the other tuna.

So shy great white sharks are – they usually gave the cages a wide enough berth.

I relay this anecdote to get across a point. When you’re eating an animal, you’re eating a unique being with its own attributes and in the case of marine life, you’re eating wildlife, not the safely cognitively dissonant idea of eating a farm animal.  If this doesn’t bother you, no judgement. If you feel like a hypocrite when you eat a burger (like me!), also no judgement.  I just want to make it clear, what we’re doing.  Tuna are equally interesting and important as sharks, orcas, giant squid, or clown fish.

Aquaman is cold-blooded, yo.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s eat! Most of you will eat tuna in one of three ways – as a tuna salad sandwich, as sushi/shashimi, or steaked/seared ahi. The tuna salad sandwich is ubiquitous on the American lunch menu, so let’s start off with that.

It’s not healthy.  Tuna certainly is (if you don’t mind all the mercury in it, which you totally should, more on that later), but most of you will drown your tuna in mayonnaise,   and that turns healthy tuna into an artery-choking fat sandwich.  A Subway Tuna Salad flatbread has 25 grams of fat. A McDonald’s Big Mac has 33 grams.  Chew on that.  Or you know, don’t. Get the turkey – only 3 grams of fat!

And then you’re not damaging the ocean!  Let’s discuss why your tuna fish sandwich is bad for the ocean, using SUBWAY® restaurants own words (from their own website):

“Our suppliers only purchase from certified non-IUU (illegal, unregulated, and unreported) boats on the Earth Island Institute approved supplier list. Multiple catch methods are employed, including purse seine and pole and line, depending sustainability needs of the fishery. We are concerned about the levels of by-catch (the catch of unintended and even endangered species) associated with purse seine nets…

So, does that mean…?

Not really.  Just press play.

Dolphin Safe only means that aggressively targeting and purposefully catching and killing dolphins as part of a tuna hunt is not part of the fishery practice (millions of dolphins were killed as part of this practice – and thousands still die every year as a result of the tuna hunt). And dolphins aren’t the only fish (DOLPHINS ARE NOT FISH THEY ARE MAMMALS – ed.) in the sea. Sharks, mola-mola, rays, sea turtles (TURTLES ARE ALSO NOT FISH, GODDAMMIT -ed.) are also caught in those nets!

Right now,  you might be saying: “Klute, SUBWAY is concerned about by-catch! DIDN’T YOU READ THE WEBSITE!?!?

Hey, I’m glad they’re concerned!  They even seem to be interested in doing something in the future, mentioning plans to move to fully sustainable, no by-catch fisheries! But the oceans need help TODAY.  Rays, turtles sharks, and yes, still dolphins, are dying for your $5 foot long.

This is painful for me to look at.

All those sharks are dead from getting caught in a tuna purse seine net. I don’t really have anything funny to say about this.

So right now, you’re probably thinking “They told me tuna was healthy! (REALLY? DRENCHED IN MAYO? YOU THOUGHT IT WAS HEALTHY? HOW DUMB ARE YOU? – ed.) It was Dolphin Safe!” And you’re right, you probably didn’t know. And it’s not like things haven’t gotten better, but all those dead sharks up there are a harsh reality check.

You can still enjoy tuna salad though. There is a way that tuna is caught that results in almost no by-catch.  It’s called “pole-and-troll”.

No nets. No fish aggregating devices. Just fishermen, a pole, and a gaff.

It’s albacore tuna, which is a different, and healthier version of tuna than yellowfi. Albacore are smaller, on a lower trophic level than yellowfin and bluefin, so there will be less mercury, PCBs, and other ocean pollutants in the meat (as predators, through the process of bio-accumulation, tuna have unnaturally high levels of toxins and heavy metals in their flesh).   Personally, I think albacore tastes better.  It’s rated by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program as a “Best Choice” and even Greenpeace puts pole-and-troll albacore on its Green List.

But for tuna salad, you really are better off making it at home. And Cap’n Klute recommends…

Also available in Jalapeno, Garlic, and Smoked!

No nets! The tuna is pole-and-troll caught (with no by-catch – because if it’s not tuna, it’s let go!). By fishermen who haven’t been press-ganged into slave labor by Thai Union (SERIOUSLY. GOOGLE “THAI UNION” AND “TUNA” AND “SLAVERY”. REMEMBER THAT IUU STATEMENT FROM SUBWAY? YEAH. – ed.) and are protected by OHSA regulations! It’s canned in the US! And they use what you don’t eat to make a sustainable cat food (THAT’S RIGHT.  YOUR CAT WHISKERS IS KILLING THE OCEAN TOO -ed.).

My cat General will attest that this is just the best.


But let’s talk about something. I’m not going to lie to you, swabbies… sustainability costs money. You’re probably not going to find sustainable seafood in the bargain bin, and if you do, it’s still likely to cost more than your can of Starkist, Chicken of the Sea, or Bumblebee. You’re paying for sustainability, but its worth it. If you’re going to eat tuna, this is probably the best you can do for the ocean.

And now, my secret tuna salad recipe.

Cap’n Klute’s Shark Friendly Tuna Salad

1 can American Tuna
2 celery stalks
3 medium-thick slices of red onion
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon pickle relish
2 florets spicy pickled cauliflower
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 ½ tablespoon Olive Oil Mayo

Dice the celery, the red onion, the garlic, and the cauliflower. Set aside. In a medium bowl, flake the tuna (DON’T DRAIN THE OIL) into smallish pieces. Add dill, pepper, relish. Add the vegetables. Mix together. Add the mayo. Mix again.  It’s delicious right away, but if you leave it covered and in the refrigerator overnight and let the flavors mix. Oh man. So good.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Sushi and Seared Ahi, and what you can do to get right by the ocean.

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