Should you Worry about Toxins in your Tuna?

This week scientists announced they’d found small amounts of Fukushima radiation in tuna caught off California’s coast. Any reason to worry?

Read the long answer in my piece on Huff Post Canada.

The short one?

 We don’t know yet.

Unlike salmon, many species of tuna do migrate across the Pacific. But not to worry, says Dr. Nicholas S. Fisher, a professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at State University of New York who wrote the report. The levels are low, and “there is little evidence that these radioactivity levels would pose a risk to public health,”  he said in an email interview. He’ll better understand any threats after measuring radioactivity in tuna arriving from Japan this summer, “but we do not expect serious risks from these newly arriving fish.”

“This new article is a clear example of how a contaminant release on one side of the Pacific can quickly reach the other side and be detected, here in tuna,” said Dr. Ken Buesseler, a world expert in marine radioactivity with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. 

Buesseler is leading an international research team tracking Fukushima’s trails in the Pacific. He — and other scientists — have found radiation up to 600 km (400 miles) off Japan’s coast. The amount found thus far does not pose a risk to humans or marine life, he says, but he’s worried: The reactor still appears to be leaking, and radioactivity levels around the site and in nearby fish are not declining.  

To their credit, the Japanese have been testing fish and plant life in the area and posting results on the internet. Indeed, many have levels of radiation exceeding standards—especially filter feeders (mussels, clams) and those that dwell along the ocean floor (flounder, crab, seaweed).  So imagine what happens as fish eat the fish who eat the highly contaminated marine life.

Compared to salmon and many other choices, most tuna that end up on your plate have lived very long lives, meaning they’ve plenty of time to accumulate toxins. And mercury’s another troublesome one, brought to us in large part by all those coal burning factories in Asia. In fact, albacore tuna—the prized white kind you see in cans—is allegedly higher in mercury than the regular light kind. (If you insist, get your hands on some canned tuna caught while they’re young; mercury won’t have as much time to build up. Or buy canned salmon instead.)  

While this week’s news featured tuna caught near San Diego just four months post disaster, we don’t know what will happen as time goes by. Want to be the first to know? Follow this anti-cancer blog; I’m on the case, on your behalf.  


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