Radioactive Tuna Shows Up In The US; It’s Time To Get Serious About Safe Sushi

radioactive tuna sushi

This week, radioactive tuna from Japan made its way through international waters and into local parts of the Pacific Ocean. The pack of migrating bluefin tuna fish swam thousands of miles, carrying hazardous levels of radioactive cesium–the result of last year’s tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which caused extreme damage to nuclear reactors. And while radioactivity is worrisome, this is just one more reason why choosing sustainable, safe sushi and other seafood products is more important than ever.

The amount of cesium found in the bluefin is relatively small–and eating it once or twice won’t cause you to glow, or immediately trigger the growth of tumors all over your body. But you’d be wise to avoid bluefin and other forms of unsafe, unsustainable tuna, anyway, for a multitude of reasons.

Bluefin is already Japan’s most expensive edible fish–and in the hunt for fish that have somehow haven’t been tainted by the nuclear exposure will only drive up the price, which is reason enough for most of us regular folks to order something else. However, bluefin has bigger fish to fry than a little cesium:  it is also seriously overfished (because of its popularity), and on the verge of collapse as a species. But if even that hasn’t stopped the supply and demand, a little nuclear waste won’t, either; there’s a good chance that unscrupulous fishers who are looking to make money regardless of safety concerns may continue to pump it into the supply of edible food.

And while the news of radioactivity is likely going to land bluefin on a lot of people’s “don’t eat” list (at least for the next few months), it’s not the only fish in the sea that’s raised red flags for its significant health risks.  Aside from the widely-acknowledged problem of high levels of mercury found in many tuna products, the seriously saddening amount of garbage in the ocean, and overfishing that is threatening the balance of the ocean’s ecosystem, there are the unsavory, unsafe processes that fish undergo before they end up on the table.

Tuna scrape,” which is made by removing the fat and tissue from the spine of yellowfin tuna, and often used in spicy tuna and other sushi rolls, recently got in some hot water after it was found that large quantities of it were handled and stored improperly, and may have sickened dozens of people with Salmonella. The imported, ground-up fish good isn’t exactly pink slime–but it also hasn’t undergone enough research to truly know that it’s safe.

So what’s a seafood lover to do, when marine populations are being depleted and replaced with nuclear waste and garbage, and fish products are continuously being recalled for safety issues?

Easy: go back to basics, and think before you eat, purchase, or order any kind of seafood. The simplest way to make sure you’re eating the good stuff is to check with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, one of the most reliable and comprehensive lists of seafood rankings, based on safety and sustainability. They even have a special guide just for sushi. You can find the pocket guides at aquariums and even seafood counters across the country, or check them out online. They even have an app in the Android and iPhone stores.

Safe seafood may seem like a mystery, but there if you’re armed with resources, you’ll be able to order fish that’s good and good for you–come hell or high, nuclear-tainted water.


Image via the Surfrider Foundation, who would like to remind you to kindly dispose of your garbage properly, so you don’t end up eating it.

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    • Tom

      “This week, radioactive tuna from Japan made its way through international waters and into local parts of the Pacific Ocean.”

      No, this did not occur this week. This data was collected in Summer 2011 and has been withheld until now.

    • Bill

      The level of radioactive tissue was above normal, but still within acceptable limits. “Hazardous” and “worrisome” are highly inaccurate.

      • Tom A

        Worrisome is not inacurate at all.

        This study shows that in spite of absurd denial on the part of the FDA, EPA, NRC, etc, that such a thing could happen (in spite of how obvious it was to the rest of us) contamination from Fukushima has actually entered the US food chain. Meanwhile nobody is monitoring the situation. The FDA ( EPA or whoever) is not testing US seafood for radiactive contamination as of 2 or 3 months after Fukushima, when they decided, based on the most faulty logic, that if they hadn’t seen it yet, they weren’t going to see it.

        Additionally, there are other foods we eat here that are have higher rates of absorbing radioactive particles than fish – seaweed, mushrooms, etc. – and nobody is looking at those either.

        Finally, just because these 15 fish – tested by accident for a one time study – only showed low levels of cesium (and we all know that there’s no such thing as an actual “safe” level of radioactive particles), that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more contaminated fish making it in to our food supply.

        What is worrisome and alarming is our government’s refusal to monitor the situation and supply the citizenry with appropriate honest information through which we can make decisions about our own health.

    • David McGuire

      The real toxin is the mercury. Reports by government and health advocacy groups Swordfish contain high levels of methylmercury.
      The non profit Got Mercury has tested Bluefin tuna sushi and detected mercury over 200% above the advisory level.
      In 2004, a joint statement about mercury in fish and shellfish was released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.
      The advisory tells women who are or may become pregnant,
      nursing mothers and young children not to eat species with high levels
      of methylmercury, including swordfish, shark, king mackerel and
      Prenatal and early childhood methylmercury exposure is associated with impaired nervous system development.
      To avoid the risks to the fetus and developing child pregnant women can avoid mercury and should not eat these fish. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “harmful effects [of methylmercury] that may be passed from the mother to the developing fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, lack of coordination, blindness, seizures, and an inability to speak.”
      A 140 pound woman eating 6 oz of Bluefin Tuna at levels measured per week will be 180% over the action level advised by the FDA and over 370% of the EPA action level.
      There are many other readily available sources of omega 3s, protein and essential nutrients that are low in contaminants.
      Women who are concerned about their mercury exposure from seafood can use the calculator and determine their risk.


      Seafood is really too much tasty dish i have never had this kind if food in my life, it is too much different in taste than the regular vegetables.