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World Tuna Day: an ocean of opportunities for sustainable and ethical tuna alternatives

May 2 is World Tuna Day, inaugurated in 2016 by the United Nations in order to raise awareness about the problem of tuna overfishing. The event was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly when it voted in favour of a resolution to create awareness about the global issue of tuna overfishing.

Tuna sandwiches, salads, soups, sushi and more — tuna dishes are among the world’s most popular fish dishes. According to the National Fisheries Institute, canned tuna is the second-most popular seafood product in the US, after shrimp,1 while in the European Union, tuna and tuna-like fish are the most consumed seafood products.2 However, the high demand for tuna means that many tuna stocks are exploited to their full capacity and overfished. Every year, more than seven million metric tons of tuna and tuna-like species are caught, with 33% of them being caught at biologically unsustainable levels.3 Tuna accounts for 20% of the value of the catches of all marine fisheries and over 8% of all seafood traded globally.4

Sustainable plant-based fish is here to stay

However, just because you have a taste for tuna doesn’t mean that you need to contribute to this marine devastation. In recent years, plant-based fish alternatives have emerged as a sustainable and ethical option for seafood lovers. Fish and seafood alternatives represent a highly promising approach to reducing pressure on the oceans and marine life, while providing delicious fish and seafood alternatives.

Although still in its infancy, the plant-based-seafood sector is growing rapidly. In Europe, for instance, seafood alternatives experienced a whopping 326% growth in sales value between 2020 and 2022,5 a clear sign that consumers’ appetite for plant-based seafood is growing. According to a recent Smart Protein survey, flexitarians would like to see far more plant-based fish on supermarket shelves, with plant-based salmon and tuna being the two most commonly desired products, followed by plant-based white fish.6

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Major food companies are responding to this rising consumer demand for more ethical and sustainable seafood products. For example, Nestlé entered the market for plant-based seafood in 2020 with the launch of a product that mimics tuna, branded ‘Vuna’ under the Garden Gourmet brand. Even more significantly, Thai Union, the world’s leading seafood producer, has committed to delivering sustainable plant-based seafood products through its participation in the EU-funded Smart Protein project.7

Cultivated fish: the future of seafood

Going one step further, companies are now developing real seafood products by cultivating fish cells rather than through the fishing of marine animals. In order to produce cultivated fish, fish cells are first sampled from animals through a painless biopsy. These cells are placed in a bioreactor, also known as cultivator, and fed with everything they need to grow, including nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins. The resulting product aims to replicate the same sensory qualities and nutritional value of conventional fish. Several startups have entered the cultivated-fish sector, with BlueNalu and Finless Foods focusing on tuna.

Although not yet commercially available, cultivated fish and seafood are expected to have numerous benefits compared to conventional fish, including a lighter impact on the environment, reduced use of antibiotics, and a decrease in the numbers of fish that are caught every year. Cultivated fish and seafood will provide people with the same food they know and love, but with added benefits.

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In summary, sustainable and ethical alternatives to conventional tuna products can help reduce the pressure on our oceans and preserve marine ecosystems for future generations. There are many delicious and innovative plant-based tuna alternatives out there waiting to be discovered, soon to be joined by an array of cultivated products. Happy World Tuna Day!

References

  1. National Fisheries Institute (2023) Tuna facts. Available at: https://aboutseafood.com/tuna-council-3/tuna-facts [24.05.2023]
  2. EUMOFA (2022) The EU fish market. Available at: https://www.eumofa.eu/documents/20178/521182/EFM2022_EN.pdf [25.05.2023]
  3. World Tuna Day, United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/tuna-day [24.05.2023]
  4. World Tuna Day, United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/tuna-day [24.05.2023]
  5. The Good Food Institute (2023): Market insights on European plant-based sales 2020-2022. Available at: https://gfieurope.org/market-insights-on-european-plant-based-sales-2020-2022/ [24.05.2023]
  6. Smart Protein Project (2021): A European survey on consumer attitudes towards plant-based foods, with a focus on flexitarians. Available at: https://smartproteinproject.eu/consumer-attitudes-plant-based-food-report/ [24.05.2023]
  7. Smart Protein Project (2020): Meet the Smart Protein partners: Thai Union. Available at: https://smartproteinproject.eu/meet-the-smart-protein-partners-thai-union/ [24.05.2023]

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