Albacore tuna, sockeye and pink salmon canned by Delta’s Raincoast Trading are the first retail products to bear the Ocean Wise sustainability logo.
The Vancouver Aquarium, which runs the Ocean Wise program, used Raincoast to pilot the new sustainability verification program for retail products because the company was founded to produce responsibly harvested seafoods and already had an elaborate system in place to track and verify the source of its fish, said Ocean Wise program manager Mike McDermid. Raincoast can use the code printed on any can of its fish to determine not just where the fish was caught, but even the boat it was caught by, who the captain was and the time of day, he said.
“We want to make sure consumers can identify what is a responsible seafood choice and feel confident that the product is what it says it is,” McDermid said. “We audited all of their seafood and the fisheries it was coming from and how it was caught and determined that it did meet Ocean Wise criteria.”
Ocean Wise monitors the world’s fisheries for habitat degradation, over-harvesting and impacts on other species such as turtles and dolphins. The vanaqua. org website maintains lists of fish species that should be avoided by consumers as well as recommendations for responsible dining choices.
Despite wide public interest in sustainability, Raincoast and Ocean Wise have a huge public education challenge before them. “Canned tuna is a perfect example of a high volume item where there are very few good choices,” McDermid explained. Raincoast albacore is line-caught in B.C. coastal waters from a highly reproductive fish population, unlike most of the tuna sold on store shelves that is caught in over-exploited South Pacific fisheries.
Tinned albacore tuna is on the avoid list of all the major sustainable seafood verification programs, but at about $2 a can mainstream nonsustainable tuna remains an attractive purchase for many consumers. Raincoast tuna sells for $5 to $6 a can. “The West Coast albacore fishery is the most sustainable option out there,” said McDermid. “Without consumers understanding why Raincoast is more expensive, it’s a tough sell.”
Raincoast co-owner Mike Wick, who runs the company with his brother Chris, knew from the outset that his products would have to be better than your average tuna. The fourth generation fishermen founded the company 10 years ago.
“At the time the best fish was going to Japan, so we decided to keep some of the higher quality fish so people here can enjoy that,” Wick said. The process from hook to tin is designed to create a premium product.
The fish is cooked only once right in the can with no added water, oil or salt. Mainstream tinned fish is cooked once before it is tinned and then again in the can to kill pathogens.
“We are taking a fish steak and putting it in the can,” Wick explained.
Tuesday Wick met a shipment of albacore at the dock in Steveston to check the catch for quality, freshness, oil content and mercury levels. B.C. albacore is taken young so it has less opportunity to accumulate mercury, which is present in most larger tuna species.
“People will pay for tuna that tastes great and for that traceability,” said Wick. “They know that they can trust our products from pillar to post.”
The company, which employs 11 people, grossed only $100,000 in its first year, but steady growth has pushed annual sales to the $2 million range.
Ocean Wise has a roster of 2,800 partner restaurants, food processors and retailers across Canada since taking the made-in-B. C. program national in 2009.