Albacore Tuna

A Tuna That Stands Above

Pacific Albacore Tuna
Pacific Albacore Tuna. Photo © Molly Watson

With all the talk about the problems - either sustainability or health-wise - about tuna, it's a relief to learn that pole-caught or troll-caught Pacific albacore tuna are a reliably tasty, healthful, and sustainable tuna source for those of us who crave this rich, meaty, nutrient-rich fish.

All tuna are a highly migratory fish, swimming long distances throughout the ocean. Pacific albacore tuna are no different.

North Pacific albacore - particularly juveniles age 2 to 4 years old - typically begin their expansive migration in the spring and early summer in the waters off Japan. They move into the waters off the U.S. Pacific coast by late summer, then spend late fall and winter in the western Pacific Ocean. Similarly sized albacore tuna travel together in schools that can be up to 19 miles wide through the chilly Pacific waters.

Troll-caught and pole-caught tuna, where the fish are caught by individual hooks targeted at them, preserves the quality of the fish, since they don't spend any time scrambling in nets or then "drowning" once brought on board waiting their turn for processing. These fishing methods also create almost no bycatch (fish and other sea animals caught while trying to caught a specific species, which are often killed and wasted in the process) - in other words, there are no nets for dolphins and other creatures to get caught in.

On the nutrition front, albacore tuna is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol. It's also high in omega-3 fatty acids (some studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are more easily utilized than those from other sources), the mineral selenium, and vitamins B and D.

One concern with tuna and other large, carnivorous fish is mercury, a heavy metal that can build up in the systems of fish higher up the food chain and can cause neurological problems in people if they ingest too much.

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury. On this front, pole-caught albacore especially stands out: since mercury levels largely depend on the age and size of tuna when caught, research and testing shows that the smaller, younger albacore caught with troll and pole-and-line gear have lower mercury levels than the larger, older longline-caught albacore and other tuna species. Batch-testing of canned wild-caught Pacific albacore tuna show only trace amounts of mercury.

Fresh, frozen, and canned albacore tuna are all available. Look for domestic, wild-caught albacore Pacific tuna at the fish counter or on labels for canned tuna (here are a few brands of sustainably-caught albacore tuna I like). Look below for delicious tuna recipes like Tuna Gravlax and Tuna Olive Caper Pasta.