Diving into Big Seafood Brands

Where is your seafood really coming from?

A school of tuna fish near the surface of ocean.

A school of tuna, image courtesy of StarKist.

Have you ever wondered where your wonderfully buttery, pink salmon is coming from? Whether last night’s Ahi Tuna dinner at that fancy restaurant was wild caught or raised in a fish farm? 56 percent of Americans consume seafood roughly twice a month, yet 44 percent of those consuming seafood on a regular basis say that there is not enough information available to them about the seafood they are purchasing. Dive into where your favorite seafood brands are getting their fish, how they are catching them, and what they are doing with them after the catch.

How you get your seafood is broken down into:

  • Where is Your Seafood Reel-y Coming From? 
  • Fishing Inside Your Favorite Brands
  • From Sea to Table

Fish tracing available on both StarKist and BumbleBee’s websites with a serial number found on their products.  Image courtesy of StarKist.


Where is Your Seafood Reel-y Coming From?

Popular Seafood Brands & Where They are Catching Their Fish 

Starkist and BumbleBee are seafood brands that we know of and keep stored in our cabinets. It’s not often that we wonder where our canned tuna or salmon packet comes from before eating it. Perhaps this is because of the labeling on the side of the can or bag ensuring consumers that this tuna is “wild caught, gluten free, dolphin safe, lean protein.” Consumers read this information and don’t worry about how, when, or where the fish they are eating was caught. 

Fish Tracing: Both Starkist and BumbleBee offer fish tracing of their products. Locate the serial number on the back of a can or packet and fill out on each company’s website under tracing. Easily locate one the company’s website where the fish you’re eating was caught. 

It’s good to know where the fish and seafood you’re eating is caught, but how it’s caught is even more important.

Product Sourcing: On StarKist’s website, they claim that all of their tuna is wild caught in the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean. Some of the tuna is processed in Thailand, but the majority of the tuna is produced in American Samoa, an American territory, Ecuador, and Senegal.

There are United States’ FDA regulations all plants must follow, no matter where the plant is located. All products produced outside of the United States must be labeled that way.

In 2019, StarKist settled an ongoing lawsuit on the island of American Samoa for dumping 80,000 of wastewater into the harbor nearby. StarKist was assessed nearly $85,000 in penalties, but to a multi-million dollar company, that isn’t much. 

A purse-seining net after the catch. Image courtesy of World WildLife Fund

Processing tuna in Ecuador

Fishing Inside Your Favorite Brands

Be Aware of How are Fish Caught: Wild Caught, Farmed, and Long-Lining

There are many, many ways that your favorite brands are bringing in and catching the amount of seafood they are. From wild caught fish to fish farming, the negatives may outweigh the positives.

Wild Caught: Wild caught fish are caught in their existing environments, whether that is rivers, lakes, or oceans. Majority of the time wild fish are caught by purse-seining, which is a fishing method where large boats draw out a net around a school of fish, and once the net is filled with fish, it is closed and pulled back onto the ship. This does catch the most amount of fish. StarKist’s purse-seine boats can carry up to 2,000 tons of fish, which contributes to overfishing- we’ll get into that later. 

Bycatch is another important topic that purse-seining is a big contributor to. Bycatch is everything else that is caught in the purse-seining net, other species of fish, dolphins, sharks, you name it. Often, the victims of bycatch are not saved in time to be returned back to the water. Because  purse-seining is such a popular fishing method, an increasing number of marine life’s population is declining, disrupting marine ecosystems. 

Both StarKist and BumbleBee have the “dolphin safe” logo on their products, which means that the brands are condemning fishing methods that harm marine life such as dolphins, whales, and sharks. Wasn’t purse-seining contributing to bycatch and disrupting many forms of marine life and ecosystems?

Long Line Fishing: Albacore tuna is caught by long-lining, a method where a long, thick line with many branch lines descends as deep at 150 meters to catch the tuna. Up to 150 metric tons of fish can be caught on a long line. Long lines are often used to catch fish before they are old enough to breed. Once caught, they are put into fish farms to spend a short time breeding, before they are killed and exported. 

Overfishing: Catching more fish faster than stocks can reproduce is called overfishing. Overfishing is related to bycatch, which you know is deteriorating marine ecosystems. Much of the damage is done is to marine life, but also done to those who make a living by fishing around the world. Many people are working to improve their methods, yet there doesn’t seem to be a clear solution without the stop of commercial fishing.

Fish Farming: So, now that wild caught fish is covered, let’s get into fish farming. About half the fish eaten today are farmed, spending their whole lives in overcrowded enclosures, called “aquafarms,” large netted areas in bodies of water or man made enclosures on land. Commonly farmed fish include tuna, salmon, cod, halibut, and trout. Farmed fish are fed smaller species on the food chain, and the aquafarms are wiping smaller species out with how much they need to consume. 

Farming is thought to be the solution to overfishing, yet these overpopulated aquafarms are disrupting ecosystems with pollutants and disease. Fish that live in these farms suffer from diseases that are treated with antibiotics and pesticides- remember how these fish are half of what humans consume today? In their netted environments, often fish escape and introduce these diseases and toxic pollutants to other fish as well. 

Due to the high density of fish in these enclosures, large amounts of fish excrement are causing waters to become extremely polluted, leading to poor water quality that is low in oxygen. 

StarKist and BumbleBee claim that all of their fish is wild caught and they do not participate in fish farming. 

A yellow fin tuna. Image courtesy of World WildLife Fund.

yellowfin tuna

From Sea to Table 

How the Seafood You’re Eating Gets to Your Table 

StarKist and BumbleBee provide on their websites the step by step process that it takes for their seafood to make it to your table. 

After the Catch: Aquaculture wants you to believe that fish do not feel pain, unfortunately it’s the contrary. Suffering fish and sea life are not given much attention, even though they are conscious during slaughter. In the United States, some fish, such as salmon, are starved so that they have an empty gut before slaughter. All around the world fish are commonly killed by bleeding to death, being hit, or suffocating. There are no regulations for this inhumane treatment during fishing. 

Sustainability: StarKist and BumbleBee are members of the International Food Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). ISSF’s mission is to find sustainable methods and recommendations to protect the most targeted species of fish- how are they doing? 

Processing: For StarKist and BumbleBee, the fish that is caught is taken to nearby processing plants, where frozen fish is placed into cold storage before the processing begins. Fish is thawed and prepared for cleaning, loaded onto racks, and put into large steam cookers. The steam cooking process is different for the size and type of fish. Fish is then removed from the bones, placed in bags and frozen to lock in moisture. The fish is now ready to head to the canneries, some in the United States and others not.

Fish is sent to cannery factories where the canning process takes place. The canning is entirely automated. Fish move to be packaged, cooked, sealed and labeled. The canned fish is ready to be shipped through the world for people to eat.  

Now you know a little more about where popular seafood comes from- and what methods are used to get them to your table. Looking more closely at not only where seafood comes from, but all food is what a lot of people are missing. To sustain the environment you live in, you must look at where your food comes from and the footprint it leaves behind. 

Tessa Mlinek

Tessa Mlinek is a student at Seton Hill University from Greensburg, PA.
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