Find out which types of tuna are sustainable, and which kinds are under threat.
Tuna: it isn’t exactly the most glamorous fish is it? It comes in cans. It’s all too often mashed up with sweet corn and mayonnaise. It’s usually served between two squares of white bread, or maybe, if you’re feeling a bit racy, dolloped on top of a baked potato. However, there’s a lot more to tuna than sweet corn and sandwiches. We’ve all heard of dolphin friendly tuna, and you’ll often see a can of tuna that advertises its friendliness towards dolphins. But it’s not just the dolphins that are suffering. Tuna itself is greatly over-fished and endangered. **Emily Boyd** takes a look at the ins and outs of tuna, and how we can make sure that we’re eating tuna, that is dolphin and tuna friendly.
80% of the fish we eat in the UK is made up of just five main types: cod, haddock, tuna, salmon, and prawns. The cod and haddock portion of this 80% is down to our national dish: fish and chips. Prawns and salmon, at the other end of the scale, are quintessential luxury fish.
What about tuna? Tuna seems such an easy fish, so accessible. You don’t need to deep fry it; you don’t need to smoke it; you don’t need to douse it in a Marie Rose sauce. As long as you have a can opener you’ve cracked it. But tuna isn’t that simple. There are in fact 7 varieties of tuna that are widely fished and eaten, and whilst some are in plentiful supply, others are highly endangered.
*The 7 main varieties:*
**This tuna is the variety that comes in tins from the supermarket. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) uses a traffic lights system to rate how sustainable certain fish is. Skip Jack tuna is generally rated amber, although wild Skip Jack caught in certain areas (the Indian Ocean and the West Pacific) is given a green rating, indicating that it is not endangered.
- **Yellow Fin
**If you buy tuna steaks in the supermarket or a restaurant it is most likely to be Yellow Fin. There is not quite as much of this type of tuna in the world as there is Skip Jack, but it too has a yellow or amber rating by the MCS, depending on where and how it is caught.
**This variety is also considered to be okay to eat if caught in certain areas (the Pacific). It is not widely available in Britian, however demand for Albacore over here is growing.
The next three types of tuna can be classed together:
- **Northern Blue Fin, Southern Blue Fin, and Pacific Blue Fin
**Red light! All blue fin tuna is highly endangered. These varieties are used in sushi and are thought of as the Champagne of fish.
- **Big Eye
**This tuna is similarly endangered, and is also a delicacy that is used in sushi. The MCS give this tuna a red rating too.*
So why, if these types of tuna are so endangered, are they still be eaten?*
The belly meat of Blue Fin tuna has a different texture and taste to other tuna. It is a fattier meat, and is therefore softer and more moist. There is something rather old-fashioned about the fat portion being the prized portion. However, this is the way Blue Fin tuna is regarded, and this why it's considered a delicacy, particularly in Japan. As well as its different (and some would argue, superior) taste and texture, there is an element of tradition in why Blue Fin is still eaten so much. Blue Fin has been used in Japanese recipes for hundreds of years, and to stop using it challenges age-old culinary customs.
<p>Chef Matthew Reuther of the <a href="http://www.thebrickhouse.co.uk/london/restaurant/index.asp">Brickhouse</a> Supper Club in Shoreditch says that Blue Tuna is usually the <i>“variety of choice for chefs”</i>, as it has <i>“more fat”</i>, and <i>“more flavour”</i> than other varieties. However Reuter also says that Yellow Fin is, <i>“nearly as good as Blue Fin, and also more common and easy to find in the markets.”</i> Purely on a matter of taste, any sustainability concerns aside, Reuter says that Blue Fin would be the fish of choice, but that it is still important to know how the fish we are eating has been caught. Line caught or pole caught are the most sustainable options.<br /> <br /> Restaurants in the UK as well as Japan and other parts of the world use Blue Fin tuna. The internationally famous chain, Nobu have Blue Fin on their menu, (with asterisked advice to ask your waiter for a more sustainable option, if you want). The obvious risk with ordering Blue Fin tuna, and maintaining the current level of consumption, is that it may cease to be an option on menus in the future, simply because it has been fished into extinction.<br /> <br /> While certain controversial foods are outlawed or restricted by the law in the UK, there are no laws about tuna. However, a lot of UK chefs are taking the issue into their own hands, and a huge amount of restaurants, particularly sushi restaurants, have their own strict no Blue Fin policies. The London chains <a href="http://www.itsu.com/">Itsu </a>and <a href="http://www.fengsushi.co.uk/">Feng Sushi</a> refuse to use Blue Fin, as do plenty of other chain and independent restaurants. Emma Reynolds, of <a href="http://www.tsuru-sushi.co.uk/">Tsuru Sushi</a>, who meets with her fish suppliers regularly, and knows exactly where the fish served in Tsuru is caught, said of Blue Fin tuna: “*It’s sad that it’s an aspirational thing to eat this delicacy when it means that we are literally killing off the species.*”<br /> <br /> What Reynolds is saying, is that there's a need to take personal responsibility for what's being eaten, and to be inquisitive. She, just like the chefs at many ethically conscientious restaurants, takes personal responsibility in knowing where and how and by whom the fish has been caught. Customers in turn can be discerning too. If it is not written on the menu, diners can ask where? And how? And if they really feel the need, by whom has the tuna been caught, that they may or may not be about to order?<br /> <br /> Turning a blind eye is always an option, but with tuna's status as an endangered fish, seeing it on menus in the future may not be quite so straight forward.<br /> <br /> **Written by:** Emily Boyd<br /> <br /> *For more information of how tuna and other fish is rated visit the <a href="http://www.mcsuk.org/">MCS</a> website. The MCS also have plenty of informtaion on which supermarkets sell the most sustainable fish, as well as advice on what to look out for and what you need to know.</p>