Astoria research finds local albacore is very safe
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
By Kathryn B. Brown
East Oregonian Publishing Group
Details announced amid focus on mercury levels
Research done in Astoria is gaining national attention amid discussion
of mercury content in fish.
Michael Morrissey, director of the Oregon State University Seafood
Laboratory in Astoria, presented his research on the mercury content
of albacore tuna at a major conference in San Diego, Calif, last
His findings were good news for West Coast albacore fishermen and
those who enjoy locally caught albacore tuna.
The annual National Forum on Contaminants in Fish provides an opportunity
for fish biologists, toxicologists, environmental scientists and
public health experts to gather and discuss the latest research related
to contaminants in fish and shellfish. Representatives from the Environmental
Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration were joined
by state, local and tribal representatives.
The EPA and FDA are finalizing a joint National
Mercury Advisory, to be released this spring. Research shows that
certain species of
fish - especially shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel - have
mercury levels which can be harmful, especially if consumed by pregnant
women and young children. High levels of mercury can damage the developing
brain of a fetus or child. The mercury advisory may also warn that
although tuna is safe to eat, mercury levels are higher in tuna steaks
and canned albacore tuna compared with canned “light” tuna.
Most studies of mercury levels in canned tuna were done on the major
brands available in the United States, such as Bumble Bee, Chicken
of the Sea and StarKist, according to Morrissey of the OSU Seafood
Lab. Albacore caught in the South Pacific for these large canneries
usually weigh 40 to 60 pounds. Their mercury level averages 0.36
parts per million.
Morrissey and his fellow researchers, Tomoko
Okada and Rosalee Rasmussen, found that troll-caught albacore harvested
from waters off the coasts
of California, Oregon and Washington are smaller -10 to 24
pounds - and average only 0.14 parts per million of mercury,
well below the EPA limit of 1 part per million.
Low mercury, troll-caught fish from the West
Coast often end up in microcanneries, such as Josephson’s
Smokehouse in Astoria. The canned albacore is sold locally and
to stores through the region.
Some is sent to gourmet markets in Europe.
Morrissey points out that these troll-caught albacore have higher
levels of omega-3 fatty acids than most canned tuna, which is beneficial
from a health standpoint.
Omega-3 fatty acids protect against heart disease, in part by lowering
blood pressure and reducing triglyceride levels. Fish is the primary
source of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets.
The Seafood Lab’s study should reassure
consumers who are concerned about mercury levels in locally-caught
tuna, but Morrissey
worries that this information might get lost in the wake of a national
“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he
says. “The advisory focuses on women of childbearing age and
children.” But he is concerned that the public will mistakenly
believe that everyone should reduce their fish consumption as a result.
“This would unnecessarily and wrongfully
penalize the healthy albacore microcannery industry that has popped
up in the last five
to seven years.”
Salmon are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and very low in mercury,