If you think you know tuna, think again.
All of our albacore tuna is individually hand-caught, and comes from second-generation tuna fisherman Paul Hill, a neighbor here in Bellingham, Washington.
Paul brings exceptional skill, dedication and experience to the task of bringing you the finest, purest tuna in the world.
After an overview of the very different types of commercial tuna fishing and processing, we’ll relate some of a recent interview with Paul.
White versus light: Telling tuna apart
Skipjack, tongol, and yellowfin (ahi) tuna are canned and sold as “light” tuna (off-white or pinkish in color).
Albacore (longfin) is better-tasting and free of the fishy flavor associated with light tuna; it is whiter in appearance and is the only kind that can legally be labeled “white”.
But even albacore varies in quality, depending on how and where it is caught, and how it is processed and packed.
Long-line versus troll-caught
Large commercial fishing boats typically catch their tuna using "long lines" that lay deep in the water and hold hundreds—even thousands—of hooks. These long lines often extend 10 miles from the boat, and are pulled only when full—typically a full 12 hours after being put in the water. As a consequence, the fish is not always fresh by the time it is landed.
Because the lines lay so deep, they catch older, larger (25-80 pound) albacore, which contain fewer omega-3s and more mercury.
As tuna become older and larger, they accumulate more and more mercury from their diet of smaller fish.
(An unknown proportion of the mercury in the ocean originates from naturally occurring sources – primarily underwater volcanic activity – while the rest comes from coal-burning power plants and other industrial polluters.)
Elemental mercury is consumed by ocean microorganisms, which convert it into the “organic” but toxic form called methyl mercury, and then works its way up the food chain to tuna and other predatory fish.
Troll-caught albacore tuna: A certified-sustainable fishery
In contrast to the operators of big, long-line tuna boats, tuna trollers like Paul Hill work almost like recreational fishermen, using shallow-depth, single-hook lines to catch one tuna at a time.
As soon as a fish is hooked by one of these smaller, often family-owned tuna boats, it is brought on board, bled, and flash-frozen within about two hours.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch concurs that the troll albacore fishery is eminently sustainable, with no risk to other species. In fact, Seafood Watch placed troll-caught, North Pacific Albacore on its “Super Green” list in 2009.
And in 2008, the widely respected Marine Stewardship Council certified the North Pacific Albacore troll fishery as a fully sustainable tuna source.
To insure that Vital Choice tuna offer optimal purity, we select only the smallest of Paul’s catch … fish weighing no more than 14 lbs ... usually 12 lbs or less.
Large commercial canneries cook their tuna twice during a three-step process:
First, they bake the fish whole on a rack, which results in a loss of beneficial omega-3 oils.
Second, the tuna is de-boned and packed in cans, often with flavorings and chemical additives (e.g., pyrophosphate and/or an MSG source such as hydrolyzed casein).
Third, the cans are sealed, and the fish is cooked a second time.
This process allows the companies to produce more tuna, more quickly, but results in a mushy, bland product.
In contrast, our troll-caught tuna is packed into the can raw and cooked only once, to preserve all its natural oils and flavor.
This difference in processing methods means that our canned troll-caught albacore contains several times more omega-3s per serving, compared with the major national brands.
Paul Hill: man on a mid-Pacific mission
Lifelong fisherman Paul Hill is our exclusive albacore supplier. As he describes the process, “We land fish one at a time—as soon as they take the hook—and then freeze them right away. Our gear is specially designed for trolling, so we get virtually no bycatch of other species and present no threat to the albacore population.”
From May through October, Paul sails from Puget Sound in his 80-foot troller, for long journeys to the north Pacific with his crew of three.
The crew takes either “short” 40-day trips to deep, cold waters, or longer 60-70 day trips to the vicinity of remote Midway Island, the famed World War II sea battle site that lies equidistant from Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands, and thousands of miles from civilization.
Even during the relatively calm summer-fall months, these trips are serious expeditions, beyond the reach of amateurs or the faint-hearted.
Once brought on board, whole tuna are placed in the flash-freezer within twenty minutes, and frozen solid within two hours.
As Paul says, after a lifetime of eating experience, “Flash-frozen troll-caught tuna tastes fresher than any fresh, never-frozen tuna you – or I – can buy. The fish remains completely frozen between the time it’s captured to the time a Vital Choice customer takes it out of the freezer. It’s almost as if you caught the fish yourself and cooked it on the spot.”
And, thanks to their higher oil content, these small albacore are moister and more flavorful than the large tuna caught by long-line boats.
Vital Choice is proud to support independent fisherman like Paul Hill, who are committed to providing top-quality, sustainably harvested seafood—and we're thrilled to be able to offer you tuna of truly exceptional quality.