In a casserole, in a melt, in a nicoise salad—canned tuna has long been staple in no-fuss cuisine. It’s easy, affordable protein, after all. But worries about mercury and contamination have turned this onetime lunch favorite into a culinary villain.
Industrial pollution is at the heart of the abundance of mercury showing up in the world's fish supply. It accumulates in streams and oceans, where it turns into neurotoxic methylmercury. When small fish absorb it, and are eaten by larger fish, the levels increase as it works up the food chain.
So consumers are in a pickle. Fish and shellfish contain Omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients, and can play a key role in a developing child’s heart health and growth. But the methylmercury found in many types of seafood has the potential to hinder a developing child’s motor skills and speech, attention span, and ability to learn. In adults, fertility problems, high blood pressure, and even heart disease can occur with too much exposure.
So what's a tuna-loving person to do? A new company has a revolutionary new solution: A simple, first-of-its-kind test that can quickly and cheaply test mercury levels in fish.
In the seaside county of Marin in Northern California, two next-door neighbors were inspired by a passion for ocean conservation to create a very special brand of tuna. Bryan Boches and his wife (a coral reef conservationist and famous diver) wanted safe, mercury-free seafood for their one-year-old son, Dylan. So, in 2013, Boches teamed up with his childhood friend, Sean Wittenberg, who had previously spent over 11 years developing a proprietary testing technology that could quickly and cheaply test mercury levels in fish—the first of its kind.
Safe Catch is the only brand of tuna deemed safe enough for pregnant women and children by the "Low Mercury" criteria established by Consumer Reports. Their skipjack has a mercury limit 10 times stricter than the FDA’s.
Compared to other brands that typically precook whole fish on racks (which diminishes the nutrients and omega-3s) and then re-hydrate it with pyrophosphates, GMO vegetable broth, soy, and water, Safe Catch's method involves testing each and every fish, then hand cutting it, raw packing it, and cooking it in a BPA-free can with no additives—just pure, natural fish oils.
It’s also sustainably caught from managed stocks in the Pacific Ocean using the pole and line fishing method, which means minimal bycatch (other species caught unintentionally), so you know it’s all tuna and nothing else. (This type of tuna, fishing method and location is ranked Best Choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, the definitive guide to sustainable fish.)
Tuna that’s traceable from sea to table, caught by trusted, environmentally conscious sea captains? Now that’s premium stuff.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont