Oregon’s Choice canned albacore radiation test results

Due to concerns about the Japanese disaster, we sent several samples of our canned albacore tuna to be tested by an independent laboratory for radiation. The results show that any level present is lower than their instrument can detect. The method used was FDA WEAC.RN.Method3, and Gamma Spectrometer.

Click on the links below to view the reports:

Sample #1 (canned in 2013)

Sample #2 (canned in 2013)

Sample #3 (canned in 2008, before the disaster)



Quality Counts in Herbs Goblirsch’s Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore

News-Times, Newport, OR, Wednesday, August 14, 1991 C3

By Steve Card

Quality, not quantity is the motto Herb Goblirsch lives by when he pilots his fishing vessel, EZC out of Yaquina Bay in search of albacore tuna.

The care used in handling and preserving the fish result in a difference you can taste, Goblirsch says, and also has led to a loyal following of people waiting to purchase fish off the boat when Goblirsch returns from his trips.

“We’re real fussy about fish”, he said. “We think more of quality than filling the boat up.”

That attention to quality even extends to lining the decks with foam pads so fish will not be bruised when they are reeled in. The fish are then immediately bled and within 30 minutes, they are subjected to “air blast refrigeration”, which freezes them very cold, very quickly.

The very act of bleeding the albacore is not something normally done by fishermen, said Goblirsch. In fact, for those selling to canneries, it is a disadvantage in terms of their dollars and profit.

“You don’t get paid for bleeding fish for the cannery”, Goblirsch said. When a fish is bled, it loses about one pound of its weight, so a boat carrying as many as 1,000 fish would lose 1,000 pounds worth of profit when delivering to the cannery.

But Goblirsch thinks the difference in taste is worth the time and trouble to bleed the fish.

“If you don’t, it tastes a lot stronger, and the meat is not as white,” he said. When the fish is bled, it does not taste as “fishy” or strong, Goblirsch claims, adding “a lot of customers tell me they notice the difference.”

The freezing process is the other important difference in the way Goblirsch handles his fish. “Most cannery boats use salt spray brine when freezing,” he said. “If warmed up, the fish soak up salt, resulting in a salty taste.

“Albacore has so much potential as a fresh fish product that it deserves to be handled in the best way possible.”

When in pursuit of albacore, Goblirsch flashes with hooks, rather than nets, as do other American fishermen. “We have the original dolphin-free albacore,” he said. “Because we fish hooks, we don’t catch anything but albacore. Dolphins are too smart to take these artificial hooks.

“It’s the cleanest target fishery in the world.”

This type of fishing has its drawback, however. “It’s very ineffective way of catching fish,” said Goblirsch. “We need a healthy resource in order to do well dragging hooks.”

He expressed frustration over some Asian fishermen who continue to string out miles of drift nets. “The albacore are getting harder and harder to get in the North Pacific. Drift netters are overfishing” he said.

Goblirsch goes wherever he has to in search of the tuna, sometimes as far as 1,000 miles from port. He always returns to Yaquina Bay, however, to sell the fish fresh from his boat. That supply of fish usually sells out in just a few days.

“People will call us and put in orders for fish” Goblirsch said. “We have a loyal following of people who buy from us every year.”

In recent years, Goblirsch has also canned some of the fish. “We’ve had a custom canner can some of our fish for us and we put our label on it” he said.

That label is “Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore.” The product is gaining popularity in several stores throughout the area.

“Health food stores are beginning to take an interest in it” Goblirsch said.

“It’s very different from what you buy off the supermarket shelf.”

The popularity of the fish he brings home attests to the methods of operation that Goblirsch has developed over the years.

“I enjoy producing a high quality product,” he said. “We take pride in that quality. That’s why we do it.”

Even the license plate on Goblirsch’s pickup serves to promote the fisherman’s trade.

This label proclaims the quality of the albacore marketed by Goblirsch, which is available in several health food stores throughout the area.

Over the years, Herb Goblirsch of Otter Rock, the skipper of the fishing vessel EZC, has developed unique methods to insure the quality of the albacore tuna he catches, and he says it has resulted in “a difference you can taste.”

American albacore fishermen use hooks rather than nets when going after albacore, which Goblirsch says makes it “the cleanest target fishery in the world.”


Oregon’s premium albacore hooks a growing number of enthusiasts around the country

09/09/03
By BETH QUINN, Associaited Press
CHARLESTON –

Forget salmon.

The Pacific Northwest fish that has the gourmet food world abuzz these days is albacore tuna — in a can, no less.

Hand-caught, hand-filleted and hand-packed at microcanneries from Brookings to Astoria, premium canned albacore will account for 8 percent of Oregon’s 7 million-pound albacore catch this year.

Custom canners tout the tuna’s health benefits, saying tests show that it’s higher in omega-3 fats and lower in mercury than supermarket brands.

Celebrity TV and radio chefs praise its superior taste, and food marketing experts say the new niche market for Northwest premium albacore should continue to grow.

Small coastal canneries have been turning out raw-packed, additive-free albacore for at least half a century. But that was news to David Rosengarten, a New York City-based cookbook author and TV chef, when he began his quest to find the world’s best tuna.

He taste-tested more than 200 cans of tuna for his 11,000-circulation newsletter, “The Rosengarten Report,” which won the 2003 James Beard award for best food and wine newsletter.

He pronounced the Northwest’s microcannery products America’s best canned tuna.

“I thought that what I was going to find was great European-style tuna,” Rosengarten said. “I figured that I’d find super-high-quality, dark red Mediterranean-style tuna. As soon as I took mayonnaise and fork to Pacific Northwest tuna, that was it.

“I keep telling everybody, ‘Forget everything else — this is the tuna.’ ”

Among those Rosengarten told were the viewers of NBC’s “Today” show and the listeners of Minnesota Public Radio’s nationally syndicated “The Splendid Table.”

In keeping with the product recommendations he’s famous for, he also told those audiences they’d find America’s best canned tuna at Great American Smokehouse and Seafood Co. in Brookings.

In the two months since the shows aired, sales have gone way up, smokehouse owner Nancy Myers said. She estimated that she’s shipped 3,600 half-pound cans of albacore that retail for $5 each.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Myers said. “They say, ‘You’ve spoiled me. I’ll never buy another can on the shelf again.’ I had an e-mail saying, ‘I open a can of tuna, and I eat it right out of the can.’ They’ve never tasted anything that good.”

A generation ago, a handful of coastal canneries served sport fishermen and canned coho salmon caught on fishing charters. Oregon’s tuna fleet sold its entire catch to three giant cannery companies that cooked the fish twice and added spring water or vegetable oil to produce supermarket brands.

These days, the giant canneries buy only the larger, older fish caught by Asian tuna fleets, leaving Oregon tuna fishers to find new markets. That’s one reason Oregon’s microcanneries now turn out at least 17 private labels of canned albacore, most of them signature brands of the fishermen who caught the tuna.

Herb Goblirsch of Otter Rock pioneered “from my boat to your table” custom canning with his Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore in 1981.

The albacore filling Goblirsch’s hold are migrating juvenile tuna that follow the Japanese current to Northwest waters. They feed on shrimp, krill and sardines 30 to 100 miles offshore from June through October. The tuna are troll-caught on the surface with lures and landed by hand.

Goblirsch studied Japan’s exacting standards for fish handling to produce the highest-quality sashimi-grade fish, the thinly sliced raw fish sold in sushi bars.

Care from the water

“The difference in the can starts with how you take care of the fish when it comes out of the water,” he said. “It’s not a production cannery boat. It’s a quality, one-at-a-time fishing boat.”

This year he’ll land 60,000 pounds of albacore and produce 30,000 half-pound cans.

“I have over 3,600 families that buy from me across the country,” he said. “I don’t even advertise. My business grows from word of mouth — somebody tells their neighbor or a friend — and it grows like a pyramid scheme. If the whole U.S. knew what we had, they would be knocking our doors down.”

Many of Oregon’s 100 tuna boats are following Goblirsch’s lead in producing sashimi-grade albacore. For those with private labels, the special handling continues at the cannery.

At Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, the five-member canning crew goes through 2,500 pounds of albacore a day. Two trim each 10- to 30-pound fish into fillets, and three others cut, weigh and pack the raw fillets into half-pound cans.

Some brands add salt or garlic for flavor before cooking, but most private-label tuna is packed in its own juice. The microcanneries say that accounts for its superior taste — and justifies higher prices that range from $5 to $7.95 for a half-pound can.

“You pay for quality”

“It kind of goes right along with microbrew beers and espresso,” said Heath Hampel, co-owner of Chuck’s Seafood. “You pay for quality. It’s not really expensive for what you get. It’s just fish as good as it comes out of the ocean,”

Hampel estimated that this year he’ll turn out 300,000 cans of gourmet albacore — his own label plus more than a dozen private brands. Most are sold by mail order from fishermen’s homes or by hand at farmers markets. Some of the older brands, such as Goblirsch’s, also sell to retail stores.

“It has a nice label, a nice story and a nice message,” said Nick Furman of the Oregon Albacore Commission. “The element of direct to the consumer from the fishermen — there’s a cachet about that.”

But for serious foodies such as Rosengarten, taste is the ultimate cachet: “I thought the days of great white tuna were over, but what’s being produced in the Pacific Northwest today is taking up the slack. It’s really good stuff.”

Beth Quinn: 541-474-5926;
bquinn@terragon.com


Fish during pregnancy may boost kids’ IQ

2/16/2007, 6:00 p.m. PT
By MARIA CHENG
The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) Women who eat seafood while pregnant may be boosting their children’s IQ in the process, according to new research published Friday in The Lancet. The results of the study were surprising, say the authors, and contradict American and British recommendations that pregnant women should limit seafood and fish consumption to avoid potentially high levels of mercury.

The study relied on mothers’ observations of their children’s development and their reports of their food intake while pregnant.

Mercury is found in small concentrations in fish and seafood, but can accumulate in the body. High amounts of the metal can damage the human nervous system, particularly those in developing fetuses. On the other hand, seafood (including fish) is also a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, essential to brain development.

While experts believe further research is necessary to confirm these conclusions, the study’s failure to find evidence of increased harm from eating fish is significant. Because seafood contain both nutrients and toxins, it remains a dilemma for regulatory authorities what kinds of recommendations should exist for pregnant women.
The study, led by Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the United States’ National Institutes of Health, tracked the eating habits of 11,875 pregnant women in Bristol, Britain.

At 32 weeks into their pregnancy, the women were asked to fill in a seafood consumption questionnaire. They were subsequently sent questionnaires four times during their pregnancy, and then up to eight years after the birth of their child. Researchers examined issues including the children’s social and communication skills, their hand-eye coordination, and their IQ levels. As with any study based on self-reporting methods, however, the results cannot be considered entirely definitive.
The study was primarily funded by Britain’s Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Bristol, and the British government.

Hibbeln and his colleagues concluded that women who ate more than 340 grams per week of fish or seafood the equivalent of two or three servings a week had smarter children with better developmental skills. Children whose mothers ate no seafood were 48 percent more likely to have a low verbal IQ score, compared to children whose mothers ate high amounts of seafood.

“These results highlight the importance of including fish in the maternal diet and lend support to the popular opinion that fish is brain food,” wrote Dr. Gary Myers and Dr. Philip Davidson of the University of Rochester Medical Center, in an accompanying commentary. Myers and Davidson were not connected to the study.

Eating even more than three portions of fish or seafood a week could be beneficial, Hibbeln suggests. “Advice that limits seafood consumption might reduce the intake of nutrients necessary for optimum neurological development,” he and his colleagues wrote.


FYI – Healthy Facts

The nutritional facts on a pouch of Starkist’s best premium albacore proudly proclaims Omega-3 content of 450 mg. per 55 gram serving. Amazingly, our Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore tested at 2450 mg. Omega-3 per 55 gram serving!

How can this be that our albacore tested over five times the Omega-3 than the major store brand? First, all the major canneries (including those from Thailand) prefer to use “long line” caught albacore, which are larger and leaner than the smaller fatty surface “jig” fish we catch. We raw-fillet our fish for canning, but the major canners pre-cook their fish for the best possible recovery. In pre-cooking, the natural oil is rendered off the fish to go down the drain as lost weight, another reason lean fish are preferred.

However, consumer health is not best served using the leanest fish then pre-cooking away the natural oils, to be replaced by water or vegetable oil which has no value.

Also, the larger, older fish have 10 times the mercury of our small, fatty albacore used in Oregon’s Choice.

Not only is our fish healthier than the major brands, it tastes better too!
-Captain Herb Goblirsch


Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore Earns Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody Certification

Small Oregon family fishing business achieves MSC traceability

Sept. 16, 2008 (Otter Rock, OR) Oregons Choice Gourmet Albacore, an environmentally friendly, fisherman-owned small family seafood business, announced that their company received the coveted Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody certification on August 25, 2008.  This certification ensures that Oregons Choice albacore tuna products are fully traceable through back to the MSC-certified sustainable albacore tuna fishery.

Oregons Choices specialty is the production and sale of Pacific albacore tuna.  The family fishing vessel, F/V EZC, is part of the American Albacore Fishing Association, which is currently the only tuna fishery in the world to be certified as sustainable to the MSC standard.  With MSCs Chain of Custody certification, Oregons Choice can now use the MSC blue eco-label on its canned albacore products.

Fisherman Herb Goblirsch, his wife Ginny, daughters Samantha and Sueanna and son-in-law Bill run the Oregons Choice business.  It has grown steadily over the past 30 years, mostly by word of mouth.  Early on, Capt. Herb delivered his albacore catch to the docks in Newport, OR, for sale directly to the public.

“Im proud that my method of catching albacore one at a time with hook and line is the cleanest and most sustainable way to catch tuna,” said Goblirsch.

His albacore tuna became so popular locally that other fishermen began to sell their catch to the public while he began to have his catch custom canned for wider distribution.  Herb is now credited for pioneering the fisherman label/micro-cannery process in the Pacific Northwest.

“Ginny encouraged us to go through the chain of custody certification process for our company,” he commented.  “It does involve added expense and paperwork for us, and we have to follow a fairly strict process to ensure chain of custody from our boat to the can.”

Ginny Goblirsch said, “We already ensure our product is the highest quality, but with the MSC certification, we can now prove to our customers that our albacore tuna is sustainably caught and they can be sure that Oregons Choice tuna is coming from the MSC-certified sustainable fishery.”

Oregons Choice MSC-certified albacore includes their most popular solid-pack pure albacore packed in its own Omega 3 juices as well as smoked and jalapeno-garlic albacore.  Most of Oregons Choice customers are health food stores and individual families across the U.S.

The company carries other selected seafood products, including Oregon pink shrimp, (MSC certified),  and Oregon Dungeness crab (undergoing MSC certification process).

For more information on the Marine Stewardship Council, visit www.msc.org.

For more information on Oregons Choice Gourmet Albacore, please visit www.oregonschoice.com, or call Herb or Ginny Goblirsch directly at 541-765-2193.


Top-Tier Tuna

by Leslie Cole, The Oregonian

Tuesday September 23, 2008, 12:05 AM

The eat-local craze goes out to sea as consumers find Pacific albacore is meaty, delicious and packed with health benefits.

Oregon’s best-kept food secret comes in a can and never met a lunchbox it didn’t like.
It’s premium albacore tuna, caught by hook and line off the West Coast, filleted and processed by hand. Open the can, and it’s swimming in its own juices, ready for your fork, a sandwich or a fancy nicoise salad.

Instead of gritty shreds of dry white meat you get a solid piece of tuna loin, ranging from pale peach to beige. The flavor is clean, sometimes even sweet, and the juices delicious — please don’t pour them down the drain.

Great canned tuna right in our backyard? No need to explain to the folks who buy albacore off the docks each summer or catch it themselves, fire up their pressure canners at home and pack the meaty hunks of fish into jars.

Here’s what the rest of us should know: Our local Pacific albacore, processed in small canneries on the coast, is succulent, mild and delicious. It’s low in methylmercury and packed with healthy fish oils. And for the same reason you might prefer to buy broccoli at a farmers market, spending your tuna dollars on the local product helps Northwest fishing families and keeps dollars close to home.

“The vast majority (of locally caught albacore) goes to export,” says Rick Goche, a longtime fisherman out of Coquille and chairman of the Oregon Albacore Commission. “We’d like to change that around. We’d like our neighbors to eat what we catch.”
The dozen or so micro-canneries producing this premium product — for individual fishing vessels, small seafood markets or their own sales — turn out but a sliver of what the big three commercial brands sell in supermarkets worldwide, about 2,000 metric tons a year, says Wayne Heikkila of the Western Fishboat Owners Association. Compare that with the 2.3 million tons per year of lightmeat tuna (skipjack) that comes from the big three commercial producers, whose fishing operations and canneries are mostly based in Asia and the South Pacific.

Like any artisan product, premium tuna will cost you. Wild Pacific albacore sells for $4 to $6 a can. Even for a generous 6 to 7.5 ounces of superior fish, that price is tough to swallow if you’re used to paying 75 cents for a can of Starkist at the grocery store.
But while commercially canned tuna sales are flagging, premium tuna from the Northwest is finding a niche. Business is booming for Sacred Sea Tuna, the label Goche started five years ago when salmon fishing became less dependable. “We’ve doubled our production over the last couple of years,” he says.

Sales are strong, he says, because local albacore isn’t like the other fish in the sea.
One fish at a time

For starters, it’s caught by hook and line. Pole and troll fishermen fishing off the Northwest coast haul in tuna one at a time, using barbless hooks, instead of scooping them up by the thousands using purse-seine nets or long lines with multiple hooks, common practice for tuna boats in the South Pacific. Troll boats can’t haul in as many fish, but the fish they do land are in better shape and fresher, with less bruising. Besides that, Goche says, “it’s the cleanest, most sustainable fishery in the world,” with little bycatch, overfishing or damage to ocean habitat. The albacore, which average about 15 pounds, are brought in quickly, then bled and flash frozen, either with ice-cold brine or cold air, within minutes. At micro-canneries, mostly in Oregon and Washington, they get the same conscientious care.

Premium Northwest tuna are hauled into boats one at a time, so they suffer less bruising, and are then flash-frozen. Processors such as Dungeness Development Associates in South Bend, Wash., thaw the fish and then clean and fillet them by hand. The time-consuming work is why the tuna commands $4 to $6 a can.

Dungeness Development Associates, a cannery at the head of Willapa Bay in South Bend, Wash., custom packs tuna for eight to 10 clients every year, as little as 1,000 cans for a small boat owner and up to 100,000 cans for its largest client, Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore. “It seems to grow each year,” says Mel Corbett, plant manager. Albacore accounts for about one-third of the cannery’s time, and fills the gaps between Dungeness crab and pink shrimp season. Here, the fish are defrosted, then cleaned and filleted by hand. Hunks of loin meat are hand-packed into cans or jars, then sealed and processed in a pressure canner.

Dungeness Development and a few other canneries make a point of putting a piece of belly loin in every can, along with a fist-sized hunk of back loin. Belly loin, which has a higher fat content, is juicier and more flavorful.

More oil, less cooking

And the younger West Coast albacore has more natural oils than the larger, more mature white-fleshed tuna processed in the big canneries, so you end up with more fish oil, and more flavor, in the can.

But the biggest difference between conventional canned tuna and the locally canned product is how it’s cooked. The little guys’ “natural” or “raw pack” means it’s cooked just once, in the can. Commercial canneries thaw and cook the fish before canning, drain off the oils, then pack it in cans with water or vegetable oil. Then they cook it a second time during processing. Double-cooking hides bruising and other flaws in lower-quality albacore, says Herb Goblirsch, a Newport fisherman who started Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore (www.oregonschoice.com) almost two decades ago. It turns the albacore a uniform white color, and allows canneries to get more meat off the fish. But there’s no comparing the taste.

“It’s such a radical difference between precooked and natural pack,” says Goblirsch, whose tuna recently earned the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification for sustainability. “The custom canned has far more healthy fish oils, more tuna in the can, and it tastes better.”

Albacore buyers are looking for more than good taste. The groundswell of interest in his product, Goblirsch says, “all has to do with the safety of seafood.” About 8,000 customers buy his Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore through his Web site, most of them on the East Coast, he says, along with 100 retailers including New Seasons and Dean & DeLuca. Prospective customers are quick to ask him about mercury, he says.
Albacore or solid “white” tuna from conventional canneries tested highest for mercury among canned tunas, at 0.36 parts per million, in U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests. A 2004 joint advisory by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended that pregnant women, women of childbearing age and young children eat no more than 6 ounces per week.

West Coast albacore, which are younger fish, tested far lower, 0.14 parts per million, according to a study by Oregon State University’s Sea Food Laboratory, about the same as canned light (skipjack) tuna.

The reason: Albacore are highly migratory, and only the younger fish, with lower mercury levels, swim our colder Northwest waters. “In the South Pacific,” Goblirsch says, “they catch fish 5 years and older. Here they’re 3 or 4 years old, weighing 12 to 20 pounds.”

For tuna connoisseurs, taste is just as critical. The holy grail of canned tuna is arguably ventresca, silky pieces of belly loin packed in oil, produced in Spain. Other gourmands pine for Spanish or Italian imported tuna canned in high-quality olive oil. Local albacore fisherman say there’s a good reason for that: “My fish has gone to Spain,” Goche says, “been canned under a Spanish label, and sold back to the U.S.”

In fact, West Coast canned albacore, says Joe Guth, owner of the specialty food wholesaler Provvista, could give the imports a run for their money if the canneries here started packing the fish in oil as well. Once you do, open the can and dig in, or check out our recipes.

Leslie Cole: 503-294-4069; lesliecole@news.oregonian.com Finding local tuna Beth Nakamura Looking to hook some canned Pacific albacore? To make sure you’re getting the local product, look for the words “raw pack” or “packed in its own juices” on the label. The only ingredients listed should be tuna and salt, and each can should have at least 5 grams of fat in it (those are natural fish oils, not additives). The following Portland-area grocers carry at least one West Coast brand: QFC (Day Island Fish Co.), Wizer’s (Oregon’s Choice, Nelson Seatreats), Newman’s Fish Co. (Newman’s Premium Oregon Albacore), Market of Choice (Sweet Creek Foods, Oregon’s Choice, Skipanon Brand), Strohecker’s (Oregon’s Choice, Kimmel’s, Sacred Sea, Nelson Seatreats, Elwha Fish Co.), Whole Foods Markets (Dave’s Gourmet Albacore, Kimmel’s, American Tuna) and New Seasons Markets (Local Ocean, Sweet Creek Foods, Oregon’s Choice, Nelson Seatreats). You’ll also find locally caught canned albacore sold under private label at coastal seafood markets, such as Bay Ocean Seafood in Garibaldi, Bell Buoy of Seaside, Josephson’s Smokehouse in Astoria, Local Ocean in Newport and Chuck’s Seafoods in Charleston. Expect to pay $4 to $6 for 6 to 7.5 ounces, comparable to the price of fresh troll-caught local albacore, currently selling for $9 to $11 per pound. — Leslie Cole


100 Things We Absolutely Love

The Oregonian, FoodDay
by FOODday staff

Tuesday January 06, 2009, 12:05 AM

Every week, FOODday delivers a handful of pages filled with recipes, news, reviews, tips — whatever we thought interesting and useful enough for you to know about. But those pages are just the tip of the iceberg. Between everything we read, see, taste and try during our workday (plus the other 16 hours a day in our 24/7 food obsession), we’re inundated with cool foodie stuff. So we decided to share, hence this special 100 Things We Love issue. Our obsessions range from dreamy treats from Portland bakeries, to affordable bottles from Oregon that keep us sipping even in a tough economy, to the shops, tools, ingredients and Web sites that all cooks ought to know about. At first we weren’t sure we’d reach 100, but once we got started, it was hard to stop.

We’re sure you have great finds to add to our 100, so join our conversation. Send us your favorite things by e-mailing us at foodday@news.oregonian.com or post a comment after this article on our Web site, www.foodday.com.

— FOODday staff Please find the “100 Things We Love” in the links that follow: What you’ll find in our cupboards What you’ll find in our cupboards by FOODday staff Tuesday January 06, 2009, 12:04 AM Sometimes the smallest thing can make the difference between a good dish and a great one. Here are some ingredients that do the trick for us.

Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Micro-canned albacore tuna: Meaty, juicy, sweet — this is canned tuna? It’s sashimi-grade Pacific albacore to be exact, low in methylmercury and packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Oregon’s Choice puts a piece of the fatty belly loin in every can (that’s good fat, remember?), making it extra flavorful and juicy. Leslie Cole


Oregon’s premium albacore hooks a growing number of enthusiasts around the country

By BETH QUINN, Associaited Press

CHARLESTON –

Forget salmon.

The Pacific Northwest fish that has the gourmet food world abuzz these days is albacore tuna — in a can, no less.

Hand-caught, hand-filleted and hand-packed at microcanneries from Brookings to Astoria, premium canned albacore will account for 8 percent of Oregon’s 7 million-pound albacore catch this year.

Custom canners tout the tuna’s health benefits, saying tests show that it’s higher in omega-3 fats and lower in mercury than supermarket brands.

Celebrity TV and radio chefs praise its superior taste, and food marketing experts say the new niche market for Northwest premium albacore should continue to grow.

Small coastal canneries have been turning out raw-packed, additive-free albacore for at least half a century. But that was news to David Rosengarten, a New York City-based cookbook author and TV chef, when he began his quest to find the world’s best tuna.

He taste-tested more than 200 cans of tuna for his 11,000-circulation newsletter, “The Rosengarten Report,” which won the 2003 James Beard award for best food and wine newsletter.

He pronounced the Northwest’s microcannery products America’s best canned tuna.

“I thought that what I was going to find was great European-style tuna,” Rosengarten said. “I figured that I’d find super-high-quality, dark red Mediterranean-style tuna. As soon as I took mayonnaise and fork to Pacific Northwest tuna, that was it.

“I keep telling everybody, ‘Forget everything else — this is the tuna.’ ”

Among those Rosengarten told were the viewers of NBC’s “Today” show and the listeners of Minnesota Public Radio’s nationally syndicated “The Splendid Table.”

In keeping with the product recommendations he’s famous for, he also told those audiences they’d find America’s best canned tuna at Great American Smokehouse and Seafood Co. in Brookings.

In the two months since the shows aired, sales have gone way up, smokehouse owner Nancy Myers said. She estimated that she’s shipped 3,600 half-pound cans of albacore that retail for $5 each.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Myers said. “They say, ‘You’ve spoiled me. I’ll never buy another can on the shelf again.’ I had an e-mail saying, ‘I open a can of tuna, and I eat it right out of the can.’ They’ve never tasted anything that good.”

A generation ago, a handful of coastal canneries served sport fishermen and canned coho salmon caught on fishing charters. Oregon’s tuna fleet sold its entire catch to three giant cannery companies that cooked the fish twice and added spring water or vegetable oil to produce supermarket brands.

These days, the giant canneries buy only the larger, older fish caught by Asian tuna fleets, leaving Oregon tuna fishers to find new markets. That’s one reason Oregon’s microcanneries now turn out at least 17 private labels of canned albacore, most of them signature brands of the fishermen who caught the tuna.

Herb Goblirsch of Otter Rock pioneered “from my boat to your table” custom canning with his Oregon’s Choice Gourmet Albacore in 1981.

The albacore filling Goblirsch’s hold are migrating juvenile tuna that follow the Japanese current to Northwest waters. They feed on shrimp, krill and sardines 30 to 100 miles offshore from June through October. The tuna are troll-caught on the surface with lures and landed by hand.

Goblirsch studied Japan’s exacting standards for fish handling to produce the highest-quality sashimi-grade fish, the thinly sliced raw fish sold in sushi bars.

Care from the water
“The difference in the can starts with how you take care of the fish when it comes out of the water,” he said. “It’s not a production cannery boat. It’s a quality, one-at-a-time fishing boat.”

This year he’ll land 60,000 pounds of albacore and produce 30,000 half-pound cans.

“I have over 3,600 families that buy from me across the country,” he said. “I don’t even advertise. My business grows from word of mouth — somebody tells their neighbor or a friend — and it grows like a pyramid scheme. If the whole U.S. knew what we had, they would be knocking our doors down.”

Many of Oregon’s 100 tuna boats are following Goblirsch’s lead in producing sashimi-grade albacore. For those with private labels, the special handling continues at the cannery.

At Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, the five-member canning crew goes through 2,500 pounds of albacore a day. Two trim each 10- to 30-pound fish into fillets, and three others cut, weigh and pack the raw fillets into half-pound cans.

Some brands add salt or garlic for flavor before cooking, but most private-label tuna is packed in its own juice. The microcanneries say that accounts for its superior taste — and justifies higher prices that range from $5 to $7.95 for a half-pound can.

“You pay for quality”
“It kind of goes right along with microbrew beers and espresso,” said Heath Hampel, co-owner of Chuck’s Seafood. “You pay for quality. It’s not really expensive for what you get. It’s just fish as good as it comes out of the ocean,”

Hampel estimated that this year he’ll turn out 300,000 cans of gourmet albacore — his own label plus more than a dozen private brands. Most are sold by mail order from fishermen’s homes or by hand at farmers markets. Some of the older brands, such as Goblirsch’s, also sell to retail stores.

“It has a nice label, a nice story and a nice message,” said Nick Furman of the Oregon Albacore Commission. “The element of direct to the consumer from the fishermen — there’s a cachet about that.”

But for serious foodies such as Rosengarten, taste is the ultimate cachet: “I thought the days of great white tuna were over, but what’s being produced in the Pacific Northwest today is taking up the slack. It’s really good stuff.”

Beth Quinn: 541-474-5926;
bquinn@terragon.com