There is a safer alternative to the tuna you’re likely buying

Canadian tuna (and US Pacific Northwest) – a nutritious catch you likely don’t know about


Photo courtesy BC Tuna


Canned tuna-people either love it or hate it but even for those who love it – many have turned away from this pantry staple. While albacore tuna is a rich source of omega 3 fats, the warnings about the mercury content of white albacore tuna, particularly for pregnant women and small children, have frightened people away from enjoying this convenience food.

Health Canada warns tuna lovers about albacore on its website. It states, “However, some people eat canned tuna as frequently as every day. If frequent consumers of canned tuna regularly choose canned albacore (white) tuna, their exposure to mercury could reach unacceptably high levels. The same concerns do not exist for canned “light” tuna because it contains less mercury than canned albacore tuna. Various species can be labelled as “light” tuna including skipjack, yellowfin, and tongol.”

But here’s the good news: albacore tuna that’s fished in the waters of the Pacific Northwest is low in mercury yet it seems to be a well-kept secret – unless you live in British Columbia. HealthLink BC, the province’s site which offers comprehensive non-emergency health information to the residents of British Columbia, has detailed advice about the safety of tuna fished in these waters.

Health Canada’s website, on the other hand, also provides detailed information about limits of albacore tuna for these population groups but doesn’t take into account Canada’s own albacore tuna. You might think that it would be something our government would promote. In fact, many Canadians are not aware that albacore tuna fished from the Pacific Northwest contains minimal mercury while offering a host of nutrients, including DHA and EPA, omega 3s which are in short supply in our diets.

Canned light tuna, with its lower omega 3 levels, and not a product of Canada, is encouraged by the federal agency as a safer choice.

But Canadian tuna is indeed a nutritious catch. The industry just can’t tell Canadians about it.

They have approached Health Canada to ask them to add information about Canadian North Pacific Albacore. In a letter to Health Canada, Lorne Clayton, the executive director of Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (the marketing group for the albacore tuna fisherman), pointed to key data about this fish. He stated,

We note that HealthLink a publication of the B.C. Ministry of Health reports that CFIA has tested Canadian North Pacific Albacore and summarizes:

The Federal (CFIA) status is:

Canadian North Pacific albacore tuna (fresh, frozen and canned) has been tested for mercury by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and is considered safe to eat. The mercury level in these fish is lower than other albacore tunas. To find Canadian albacore tuna, look for the statement “Product of Canada” on the label.
**Note: Fresh or frozen BC or Canadian albacore tuna has no serving limits.

So what did Health Canada say in response to the request? They will not update their recommendations as they state their advice for albacore tuna was developed in consideration of the fish consumption habits of the general Canadian population across the country in addition to what’s available.

But why not let Canadians know what options are really available? You can order BC canned albacore tuna online from anywhere in Canada. Some specialty shops also carry it. Or why not put an asterisk beside the information so that readers can learn about our Canadian tuna?

What about fresh or frozen albacore?

Health Canada advises Canadians to limit consumption of fresh/frozen tuna along with other high mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, escolar (aka butterfish), marlin, and orange roughy up to 150 g per week of these fish species combined. But for women who are or may become pregnant and breastfeeding mothers this is the limit per month. For young children between 5 and 11 years of age, the limit is 125 g per month and 75 g per month for very young children between 1 and 4 years of age.

Yet there are no limits on fresh or frozen BC albacore. This month is actually the start of the BC albacore tuna fishing season. The tuna is frozen at sea and is available to order online. It certainly is a delicious way to get in your omega-3 fats – nutrients that are critical for age groups right through the life cycle. Not only is it nutrition-packed but BC tuna is also sustainably fished and part of the Ocean Wise making it a healthy catch for our oceans as well.

Are you aware or have you tried BC albacore tuna?

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Children's Health, Food Safety, Women's Health

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “There is a safer alternative to the tuna you’re likely buying”

  1. Roslyn
    July 29, 2020 at 10:32 am #

    Are there any brand names I should be looking for? TIA

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