Buying and eating tuna

These days, opening a can of tuna often means opening a can of worms.

It was way back in 1903 in Southern California when the first ever tuna was canned. The driver? A shortage of sardines.

Fast-forward over a century, and canned tuna is a staple of millions of people’s diets worldwide. Only coffee and sugar take up more shelf space in US supermarkets.

But these days, opening a can of tuna often means opening a can of worms. 

All of the four tuna species commonly found in cans -yellowfin, skipjack, albacore and bigeye – are under pressure. Stocks just can’t keep up with what’s being fished.

So what tuna can we eat?  To help get your head around the different types of tuna and where they might end up, see this guide.

Greenpeace’s canned tuna guides, which rank brands on their practices and policies,  are a great resource. They’ll tell you which companies are leading the way and which are dragging their feet.

But in a nutshell, here are our top tuna-eating tips: 

Don’t eat Bluefin tuna, ever, anywhere. Stocks are on the brink of collapse. There’s no way around it, we just have to stop eating it. 
When buying canned tuna make sure the can has the species name, where it was caught, and the fishing method clearly written on the label. 

Look for 'pole and line', ‘troll’, ‘handline’ or ‘FAD-free’ products. (If you’re unsure what FADs are, it’s worth finding out. Here’s a good summary.)

Choose skipjack and Pacific albacore over yellowfin tuna (all three can turn up in cans).

Unfortunately the main tuna used in sushi and sashimi are bigeye, yellowfin and the bluefins. Do your best to avoid these. Good sushi chefs are experimenting with a variety of other fish species – try these instead.

Speak up and ask questions. If you see tuna in a can or on a menu, ask where it came from and how it was caught. Encourage retailers to only sell sustainably caught tuna.

Thankfully, buying “good” tuna is getting easier. Retailers like Whole Foods, Target and Costco are beginning to offer to more sustainable and ethical tuna. And leading European tuna brands Princes and John West UK have committed to supplying 100% pole and line and FAD- free purse seine tuna by 2016. In fact by the end of 2016,all of the UK’s major supermarkets and tuna brands should be supplied solely from pole and line and FAD-free purse seining. John West Australia will reach this goal in 2015.

Also by the end of 2016, the entire New Zealand and Australian canned tuna markets should be supplied solely from pole and line, troll, handline and FAD-free purse seining.  

But it can still feel like a minefield out there on tuna shelves. That’s why we have produced a series of tuna ranking guides, to help you figure out which brands are best. Here’s that link again.