How to consume tuna in a sustainable way?


I often get the question if we shouldn’t stop consuming tuna? As with many other wild seafood species the answer is not simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but is depending on the source of the tuna.

I am travelling the world to live, fish and cook together with the most sustainable fishing communities. In this way I also have visited some great tuna fisheries in the Maldives (Indian Ocean) and near San Diego it the Pacific; great examples to the world of how we should catch and consume tuna.

Tuna has been caught and eaten for a long time: in the old Greece they knew exactly how to catch and prepare tuna. Tuna can adjust its body temperature to the temperature of the water: in cold water the fish keeps itself warm. This is how tuna can live and hunt in the cold North Atlantic waters. Tuna is a predator fish and in groups they attack groups of mackerel and herring from different angles. In order for the tuna to be able to hunt, they have to swim fast. All tunas are highly migratory fish and the biggest species can reach speeds of 90 kilometres an hour by keeping their body still and sweeping their short tail.

Tuna is commercially fished all over the world and tuna populations are being impacted by overfishing. Besides this, fishing methods are often responsible for high by-catch of birds, sharks, dolphins, turtles and other marine species. At the same time, many coastal communities around the world rely heavily on fishing for their livelihoods. Some of these fisheries are small scale and struggling for survival.

Pole & Line
The best ways to catch tuna are the selective ‘one-by-one’ methods of pole & line and handline fishing. Only a small part of the total global tuna catch is caught in these ways but they provide the tuna that is universally considered the most environmentally sustainable, and are important for jobs in coastal communities. If you buy tuna, make sure you buy tuna caught this way!

Pole-and-line and handline are traditional fishing methods that are both socially and environmentally responsible. Using “one man, one hook, one fish” methods fish are caught one at a time. These methods require many skilled fishers and are very selective – which makes it hard to overfish the tuna, ensuring fish for generations of fishers! The tuna are protected and so are vulnerable species like sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles.

Besides the positive marine biological impact it also contributes to employment and better economies in developing countries, like the Maldives and Indonesia. It takes a lot of people-power to catch tuna by pole-and-line, which means more jobs for fishers! Look for pole-and-line or handline caught on the label when choosing your tuna and take comfort in knowing that it was fished from a sustainable source and that you are supporting small fishing communities.

When buying tuna you should always go for MSC certified tuna. You can enjoy eating the fish safe in the knowledge that they’ve come from a certified sustainable fishery.

Most traded ánd sustainable tuna 
Skipjack tuna, also known as the striped tuna, is a relatively small tuna. The colour of its meat varies between off-white to light red, which is brown-grey when cooked. The skipjack is the most abundant variety of tuna and the most widely consumed. It’s often found in cans but also you’ll find the fish on local markets in Asia and South European countries. Albercore has a distinctive white-colour meat when cooked. It is very popular in a number of countries, thanks in part to its large, moist flakes. In North America it is a very popular canned product, while in the Mediterranean it is often sold in jars with olive oil.

Yellow and blue fin 
Yellowfin are big fish that can swim at incredibly high speeds, which is why in some locations they can be found swimming with dolphins. The meat is bright red when raw but turns a brown-grey colour when cooked. The flesh is firm and moist with large flakes. Yellowfin is sold fresh, frozen and canned. It is also popular as a raw product in sushi and sashimi.

There are two varieties of bluefin tuna – the northern and the southern. Both are highly prized, particularly by the Japanese market as sashimi and sushi because of their size, colour, high fat content, flavour and texture. However, the populations of both are heavily depleted and so should absolutely be avoided.

Personally I am a big fan of the tuna fisheries in the Maldives. Here fishermen are leaving around 4pm the port daily for another fish trip. First job is to catch enough live bait during the night. As soon as the sun rises it’s time to take the bamboo pole & lines to go for a good amount of tuna. A few weeks ago I have visited the fishing community to shoot some amazing video’s on and off shore for Jamie’s Food Tube and my own channel. Hope you like it and enjoy the fishermen and the tuna they catch one by one.

For more information on these fishing methods and for tips on buying these products, the International Pole & Line Foundation website – – is an excellent reference resource.