Friday, March 7, 2008

Brian Responds to Your Comments About Tuna

Brian Rohter here. I wanted to respond to some of the comments made about my original blog posting.

First, in regards to the idea that the tuna that we had sampled was actually foreign fish that was labeled as Oregon caught; I’ve personally spoken to Laura Anderson, from Local Ocean Seafoods, who supplied us with this albacore tuna. Laura was able to take the lot number that was on this shipment of tuna and trace it back to the vessel that originally caught the fish. The paperwork associated with the shipment states that the tuna was caught inside the 200 mile limit off the coast of Oregon. Laura also contacted the captain of the vessel, who had a clear recollection of the trip. He also confirmed that the tuna associated with this lot number was West Coast Troll Caught Albacore that was landed in Oregon. We did consider the possibility that somehow there was a mix up at the processing plant and some foreign tuna was put in the wrong box. The owner of the plant told us that, because of the systems they have in place in their facility, this type of mix up is virtually impossible.

Second, in regards to the color of the tuna that was shown on the KOIN piece; you are correct. We had no tuna in our stores on the day that KOIN did their story, so that photo must have been a stock picture of some other tuna.

Third, in regards to the suggestion that we post information about the danger of mercury on our seafood cases; we have been doing that for many years. In this instance, because the test results for all the tuna varieties we sampled came in so high we felt that our obligation to our customer’s health demanded that we take further action.

Fourth, the suggestion that we somehow sought publicity about this issue simply isn’t correct. We read the New York Times story about their testing of tuna in sushi restaurants in New York and we thought the results were alarming. We decided to test our tuna to make sure that we were offering safe food to our customers. As I explained in my first post, we ran two series of tests, partially because we were so surprised at the local albacore results. When the second test came back matching the first, we decided to err on the side of caution and pull the tuna while we investigated further. We put up signs on our seafood cases explaining what had happen. We did not press release our decision or contact any media organizations. Shortly after we did our testing, we were contacted by the Oregonian. We’re not sure what prompted them to do the story, but think maybe they became interested after reading the New York Times sushi story, just like us. The Oregonian asked if we had tested our tuna. We gave them an honest answer, which was yes. They asked if we would share the results with them, and we figured that being completely transparent about the whole situation was the right thing to do and in everyone’s interest, so we gave them what we had. Then KOIN contacted us, probably as a result of the Oregonian story, and we shared our information with them. We didn’t seek out any of this press coverage.

I think New Seasons Market’s support of the local fishing community is second to none. We buy local whenever we can, in some instances even contracting with specific vessels to make sure they have a market for their catch at sustainable prices. The last thing we would want to do would be to hurt our local fishing families and communities.

So, now here’s what’s happening: we’ve taken two samples from that original lot and sent them to two different labs for testing. We’ve also taken two samples from another lot of albacore supplied by Local Ocean Seafoods and sent one of each of those samples to two different labs. We expect the results early next week and we’ll post them as soon as we have them.

Finally, I want to make sure that we’re not losing sight of the big picture here. The health of our children and of future generations is directly linked to the health of our oceans. In addition, the livelihoods of our local fishermen are directly linked the health of our oceans. We hope that all this dialogue will help encourage more people to get serious about taking care of our oceans, our food system and our planet.


Larz said...

Dear Brian,
Thank You for your thoughtful comments and information about the Albacore situation that occurred.
From your comments I can see that you have an understanding that the Albacore caught in our waters are different than most other Albacore caught either on the high seas or in other far away waters. I can reiterate, from long experience, that international customers truly see Albacore caught along our coasts as very special. High oil (Omega 3’s) content and low Mercury being two of the primary reasons. The .7ppm result that the laboratory results showed is still very low. Again, our test results trend in and around the .15 -.25 ppm on average. I think that it is very fair to say that Albacore caught by our experienced fishermen are truly very special AND it is true when we say that our West Coast Albacore the lowest mercury content in the world. Wow! Now that’s special and more people should know about it!

The fishermen that fish Albacore have come from families that have fished Albacore for many years. They are a part of our West Coast history. For many of them, this is their only way of making a living. The facts about the special nature of our Albacore rarely find their way to the public's eye unfortunately. What does tend to get play in the media are regular stories about elevated levels of Mercury that can occur in tunas and other large migratory fish that swim in our oceans. The West Coast Albacore fleet and industry are not a collection of wealthy people. When less than positive news comes out about Mercury in some tuna, their Albacore is lumped in with the fish that had the problem and the perception of West Coast Albacore unfairly takes a hit. The fishermen and their families don't have the money to go out and confront these stories and get the good story about West Coast Albacore out there so that the consumer can be truly informed about the special nature of the Albacore that they catch. It is a shame.

The regretful fact is that when we hear stories about "Mercury in Some fish", we rarely hear about the reasons that there are elevated mercury levels in our environment. The reason that we have this situation is because of the lessening of pollution regulations placed on coal burning plants and other pollution sources. These realities don't seem to get much play in the media. Maybe the folks who benefit from these lax regulations and who seem to have little consideration for our environment have more money to influence what information that the public gets. Sad, but regretfully true.

Anyway, our West Coast Albacore deserves a break and more information about its wonderful qualities should get exposure. We have a very special resource here in our own backyard (or ocean). It is a fishery that has been operated sustainably for over a hundred years. Humble and hardworking fishing families as well as our coastal communities rely on this fishery for their financial well being. They don’t have enough $ to get the good news out about this wonderful fish. Thanks for your promotion of this fish and other items from our local areas.

With Respect,
Larz Malony
Manager, International Section
Pacific Seafood Group

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Malony ~

I believe most of us Oregonians are concerned about the welfare and economic need of our whole state, including those who fish our waters. It's Oregon -- of course we love fish! We love salmon and steelhead and rainbow trout and, yes, tuna.

However, cheerleading your industry is not going to change the test results that Brian Rohter of New Seasons refers to. Saying "We have low mercury levels" does not make it a fact. Even saying "Our tuna's mercury levels are less bad than the other guy's mercury levels" does not make ANY of the mercury levels safe. Your attempt to twist these facts is as disingenuous as a Chinese manufacturer including harmful ingredients in their dog food and then denying it.

By ignoring the scientific data that New Seasons is gathering, you are doing a disservice to the fishing industry. Consumers will think you are lying at all costs to save your incomes, regardless of whether you harm us and our children in the process. I have trouble believing that such an approach is a good way to win consumers over.

I do applaud your efforts to encourage all of us to pay attention to the source of this mercury.