Saving tuna

For decades, tuna in tins has been a stock pantry item for me. Chunks in brine have carried me through lean financial times and plumper physical ones; have been a tin-opener away from an easy pasta sauce or a simple summery salad; have constituted a fall-back option for evenings when cooking is frankly too much work.

And then, some years ago, word spread that every time tuna-fish were captured and killed the joyously leaping dolphins which liked to cavort in their company were killed as well. Some schools of tuna species are believed to associate themselves with dolphins for protection against sharks, which are tuna predators, and commercial fishing vessels used to exploit this association by searching for dolphin pods.

New government regulations and public outcry have since then led to altered fishing practices which are supposedly ‘dolphin-friendly’ – but in the meantime other problems were surfacing. Not only was the by-catch of tuna fishermen including more sharks and turtles as casualties, but many species of tuna were being increasingly over-fished, with some stocks at risk of total collapse.

Suddenly it wasn’t just about saving dolphins, it was about saving bluefin, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna. Since the 1960s, catches of the principal tuna species have increased fourfold – suddenly, that seemingly innocuous tin of tuna chunks sitting in my pantry turns out to be the increasingly rare yellowfin captured by destructive fishing methods.

Thank God for Greenpeace. Each year Greenpeace Australia Pacific ranks Australia’s tuna brands based on sustainability policies, tuna species, labelling, fishing methods used, use of unregulated or illegal products, and support for marine reserves and equitable tuna policies. Information is gathered by the organisation through brand responses to product surveys, correspondence with brands and retailers, product evaluation and publicly available information. Its most recent findings have revealed that the ‘Fish 4 Ever’ brand – available rather expensively at some IGA stores and health food stores – is the top-ranked tuna on the market for sustainability. Following that is the better-known brand Safcol (South Australian Fishermen’s Co-Operative Limited) whose new ‘pole and line’ range of tuna has yet to appear on supermarket shelves, though is expected to from October. The type of tuna used is skipjack, one of the few species that so far has not been overfished.

So now I am guided in my choice of useful, economical, low-fat, high-protein, Omega-3 essential fatty acid- and Vitamin B12-rich tuna. And because in theory, at least, warm days are nearly upon us, I can contemplate a vibrant Salade Nicoise in a bowl brimming with chunky tuna and wedges of hard-boiled eggs and boiled waxy potatoes and snap-crisp green beans and black olives and red wine vinegar and my loveliest olive oil; or tuna fishcakes compounded of mashed potato and chopped green onions and lemon rind and parsley and shredded tuna bound in egg, floured and breadcrumbed and fried gently till golden; or a tomato sauce for fusilli made maritime with tuna and onions and capers and anchovies and a hint of chilli and lots of fresh parsley.
A conscience clear, and collateral damage minimised.

About victoria

Author of the gastro-memoir 'Amore&Amaretti: A Tale of Love an Food in Tuscany', I am a Byron Shire-based food and travel writer, food columnist, cooking teacher, recipe editor and chef. Born in Canberra, ACT, I have a BA in languages although am only really passionate about the Italian one, in which I am fluent, having spent four years in Tuscany in my late twenties, and returning reasonably frequently ever since. Despite that, my partner of many years, a wonderful artist, clothes designer and aged carer, is half-Greek!
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