Sustainable and toxin-free living

Sustainable and toxin-free living

Easy Sustainable To-Do: Stop Eating Tuna

It’s hard to believe now that tuna, up until the 1960s, was a fish that no one wanted to eat. It was often put straight into cat food, and sold for pennies on the pound, according to The New Yorker. Not even the Japanese ate it.

But after World War II, the Japanese developed a taste for tuna in their sushi. And now it’s as common on a Japanese menu as pasta is on an Italian menu.

The thing is, our appetite for tuna has put it in danger of becoming extinct. It’s actually a sea predator,  and like it’s land-dwelling equivalents the wolf or bobcat, Americans have hunted it to dwindling numbers. One scientist estimates that only 2% of the original stock remains.

The international management of bluefin tuna has been called a disgrace. Add to that the Deepwater Horizon spill right in its spawning grounds, and you get the picture. It’s actually one of many species of fish that have been mercilessly ground under the heel of our appetites, along with halibut, haddock, swordfish, marlin, and skate. Predictably, even as scientists have sounded the alarm, governments have been unable to come to a consensus on putting limits on fishing them. (Blame Japan.)

By now you see where I’m going. The sustainable choice is to avoid ordering any tuna rolls or sashimi when you get sushi. But there’s even another compelling reason to avoid tuna: It’s a little bit poisonous.

I’m talking about mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal that is picked up in a little amounts by little sea creatures. When those sea creatures are eaten by bigger sea creatures, that mercury stays in the bigger sea creature, who collects more and more all the time–it never flushes out. The result is that the bigger the underwater carnivore, the more mercury it has in its body. Tuna is a very large carnivore. And you, my friend, are the biggest carnivore of all. Canned albacore tuna has especially high levels, but in 2008 a report found that tuna sushi in New York City had such high levels eating six pieces a week would be dangerous to your health.

There is no I’m going to tell you to stop eating sushi. It is one of New York City’s great pleasures. So don’t worry, there are plenty of sustainable options, according to Monterey Bay:

  • Wild-caught salmon from Alaska
  • Striped bass
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Rainbow or steelhead trout
  • Sablefish (also known in sushi joints as gindara)
  • Arctic char
  • Tilapia
  • Giant clam or geoduck
  • Mackeral
  • Sea urchin roe (also known in sushi joints as uni)
  • Or vegetarian sushi, which is available in many restaurants around the city

So, put this on your sustainable to-do list: Stop eating tuna!

Photo credit: Flickr/Blue Waikiki


  • Alden Wicker

    Alden Wicker is an award-winning investigative journalist and author of To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick — and How We Can Fight Back (Putnam). She splits her time between managing her internationally recognized platform on safe and sustainable fashion,, and contributing to publications such as The New York Times, Vox, Wired, Vogue, and more. She’s made expert appearances on NPR’s Fresh Air, the BBC, and Al Jazeera to speak on consumer sustainability and the fashion system’s effect on people and the planet.

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