Albacore Tuna

By: Deborah Reid

Thunnus alalunga

Longfin Tuna, Tombo Tuna

We like B.C./Canadian albacore for its flavour, texture, and sustainability. On our counter, you’ll find pink loins to cut into steaks for grilling or to slice thin for sashimi. Whole, the fish averages 1 m (3 ft.) and weighs 5 to 13 kg (10 to 30 lbs.). The elongated, fusiform body has a pointy snout, large eyes, and long pectoral fins that run a third of the body length. The upper body is a deep blue that turns to silvery-white on the belly. Eaten raw the meat is soft and buttery with a mild flavour. Cooked it has a steak-like texture and turns ivory or cream white. The meat is rich because of its high-fat content. Albacore is the only species marketed as white meat tuna and in the past has been called “chicken of the sea.” Poach in olive oil and serve with white bean and grilled vegetable salad, or cube raw and add to rice or grain bowls. The meat is high in protein, omega-3 fat, and the antioxidant selenium, and is low in carbs. In the past, there were health and safety concerns over mercury, but B.C. albacore is caught young—two to three years of age—long before there’s significant accumulation, and it consistently tests among the lowest in the world. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has imposed no constraints on consumption.

Caught in the cold waters of the Pacific, Canadian albacore is 100% wild. The tuna-canning industry still accounts for up to 95 per cent of the production of albacore, and it’s been vital to coastal economies dependent on commercial and recreational fisheries. Among tuna species, they are unique in their dietary habits in that their primary food source are cephalopods (squid), with fish making up a much smaller portion. They swim in schools based on their life stage, and also swim with skipjack, yellowfin, and bluefin tuna. A highly migratory species, they can swim at speeds of up to 50 km and travel great distances. They live for up to 11 to 12 years.

Albacore tuna is often found 100 km (50 mi.) from shore, and fishing boats can stay out for a few days or several weeks. All B.C. albacore is troll caught using barbless hooks to allow for live release of by-catch species like dolphins. Young tuna feed close to the surface of the ocean and are captured by towing a squid-shaped lure behind a slow-moving boat. When hooked it’s reeled in by hand taking extra care to ensure there is no bruising. Onboard the tuna is stunned and placed in chilled water to promote immediate cooling. For longer journeys, it’s frozen at sea to ensure quality freshness. Albacore is rigorously monitored in Canada, including catch logs to ensure sustainability, and screening for mercury. SeaChoice ranks albacore as a “best choice,” and it is Ocean Wise certified.