The Truth About Fish with Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Seafood: Rational Wellness Podcast 91
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Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Seafood discusses The Truth about Seafood with Dr. Ben Weitz.
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3:12 Randy Hartnell became a commercial fisherman while going to college to help finance his school and fell in love with commercial fishing. He did commercial fishing for over 20 years till farmed salmon came in and in 2000 they had a large catch of Alaskan wild salmon and they couldn’t sell them because everybody was buying the farmed salmon for less money. He had to give up the business, so he transitioned from catching fish to marketing fish and started Vital Choice Seafood, and his mission was to educate people about the difference between wild salmon and farmed salmon and provide them with access to wild salmon.
7:30 Vital Choice sells a Ventresca tuna that comes from the smaller tuna and it is lower in mercury than most canned tuna sold. The younger tuna not only have lower mercury levels, but they also have higher omega 3 levels.
10:15 Fish is sometimes mislabeled by some less scrupulous people who sell fish. Randy talked about filming a segment with Dr. Andrew Weill where they went to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City where they went into one stall by Slavin and Sons in November, which is not wild salmon season and they had all these pallets of boxes marked wild king salmon. He asked them where they got all this wild king salmon this time of year and they said, “Why those are farmed wild king salmon.” Then the New York Times did an investigative report on this bait and switch practice. Then a year or two ago there was a big study done in California showing half the fish in sushi bars is mislabeled. There was one species like an Asian Carp that was labeled as more than a dozen different types of fish.
12:10 Less scrupulous restaurants sometimes sell farmed salmon and call it wild salmon. Farmed salmon don’t eat krill and phytoplankton, so their skin is not pink and they have lower levels of omega 3s, so they have to be fed dye so their flesh is pink. And farmed salmon is increasingly being fed grains, which are the cheapest form of food. But this gives the farmed salmon higher levels of omega 6 fats and lower levels of omega 3 fats than wild salmon. Another problem is that farmed fish tend to have higher levels of toxins since they are also fed rendered fish feed made of tons of anchovies and sardines rendered down into pellets. While the individual sardines and anchovies have miniscule amounts of contaminants, when you render them down and concentrate the the toxins.
34:25 Unlike what I thought, which is that most of the mercury in the fish is from coal-fired power plants that spew mercury into the air, which then drops into the oceans, Randy explained that at least half of the methyl mercury in the oceans is from natural sources, eroded from the land masses. They did hair analysis of Inuit Eskimos 10,000 years old and found that they had substantial levels of mercury. There has been mercury in the oceans since the beginning of human existence and we have evolved living off fish from the oceans with no ill effects. Consider how healthy and long-lived the Japanese are and they eat seafood many times per week, including while Japanese women are pregnant. And the Japanese have among the lowest rates of infant mortality. One hypothesis is that seafood is also one of the richest sources of selenium and selenium binds with methylmercury and renders it harmless. This is in contrast with mercury from industrial accidents like Minamata disease from severe levels of mercury found in fish resulting from the Chisso Minamata factory that was producing acetaldehyde using mercury sulfate as a catalyst. This led to massive levels of mercury in the fish far above the levels that would occur naturally and this level did create a severe neurological disease. While we may want to avoid shark and swordfish and the other big bill fish, for most common seafood, the relatively low levels of mercury is just not really a health issue and the health promoting benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential downside, such as the levels of omega 3 fats.
Randy Hartnell is the founder and president of Vital Choice Seafood. They offer exceptional quality, wild seafood, both frozen and canned, fish bone broth, as well as a range of other products at VitalChoice.com or by calling 800-608-4825.
Dr. Ben Weitz is available for nutrition consultations specializing in Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders like IBS/SIBO and Reflux and also specializing in Cardiometabolic Risk Factors like elevated lipids, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure and also weight loss, as well as sports chiropractic work by calling his Santa Monica office 310-395-3111.
Dr. Weitz: This is Dr. Ben Weitz with the Rational Wellness Podcast. Bringing you the cutting edge information on health and nutrition from the latest scientific research, and by interviewing the top experts in the field. Please subscribe to Rational Wellness Podcast on iTunes and YouTube, and sign up for my free e-book on my website by going to drweitz.com. Let’s get started on your road to better health. Hello Rational Wellness Podcasters. Thank you so much for joining me again today. And for those of you who enjoy listening to the Rational Wellness Podcast, please go to iTunes and give us a ratings and review. That way more people will find out about the Rational Wellness Podcast.
Our topic for today is health fish. We’ll be speaking to Randy Hartnell, the Founder and President of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics. A company dedicated to bringing to the public top quality seafood that has lower levels of hazardous contaminants like mercury. There are many questions today about whether it’s healthy to eat fish and seafood. On the one hand, many, many scientific studies have shown that eating fish and seafood promotes better health. Even more studies demonstrate the health benefits of omega 3 fats from fish and seafood. We know that seafood, especially certain types like wild salmon, not only contain quality protein but many vitamins and minerals including fats, soluble, vitamins D, A, B vitamins, and are the absolute best source for omega 3 fats that promote cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and have so many other health promoting benefits. This is why I eat seafood at least several times per week, and I recommend it for my patients.
On the other hand, we have many concerns about eating fish today for a number of reasons. Toxic chemicals that humans have been dumping into the oceans for decades like mining waste, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, mercury, et cetera. Oil spills, nuclear radiation from Fukushima, we’ve probably all seen the reports about the Great Pacific garbage patch of floating plastic. Recent reports about microparticles of plastic found in fish. There’s questions about the sustainability of fish in the oceans. Farm fish versus wild fish. There’s an issue with the genetically modified salmon that’s on the market now. Also reports that when you go to buy seafood, many of it is mislabeled. It’s farmed and it’s labeled as wild, or labeled as the wrong species.
So Randy, thank you so much for joining us today. Maybe you can start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you came to start this seafood company, Vital Choice.
Randy Hartnell: Well, thank you Dr. Weitz. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today to address some of these many questions. There’s a lot of confusion around seafood, so I always appreciate the opportunity to bring some clarity to it. Well, I started as a commercial fisherman back in my college days. My dad worked up in Alaska as a court engineer, and he got me a job in a cannery, and he got me a job on a boat. So I financed my way through college as a fisherman in Alaska. I had planned to go onto grad school, but basically I fell in love with fishing, and took that up as a full time profession and ended up doing that for over 20 years.
Then about late 1990’s, early 2000’s, something disrupted our industry and I basically had to move on and do something else. That something was farmed, industrial salmon. Basically took over the world markets for salmon. I got to the end of the 2000 season I think, and we had caught a lot of fish, but nobody wanted to buy them. It was the first time in all my years as a fisherman I couldn’t afford to pay my crew. I couldn’t pay my bills, so I moved on. I ended up transitioning from catching fish into marketing fish. I started a company called Vital Choice, and my mission was to, one one hand, educate people about the differences between wild and farmed salmon. Also to provide them with a preferable alternative, provide them with access to wild salmon. So, that’s what we’ve been doing ever since, almost 18 years now.
Dr. Weitz: Cool. So let’s talk about, maybe we can talk about some of the health benefits of eating fish on a regular basis?
Randy Hartnell: One of the interesting things that happened when I started this company was I was selling direct to consumers. So I had a one on one relationship with my customers, and they had lots of questions. All those years that I was a fisherman, I didn’t know an omega 3 from anything. I just had never heard of omega 3’s. So I needed to do a lot of studying and basically that continues until the day I read just about every book on omega 3’s, and there are a lot of them out there, and all the health benefits of them as you know. Seafood is probably one of the few foods out there that pretty much everybody agrees is healthy. If you get the right versions of it.
Dr. Weitz: Right.
Randy Hartnell: So, seafood has been in the human diet from the very beginning. Our bodies are constructed of these marine omega 3 molecules, and we still need them, they’re still essential. Seafood is really the only place you can get them, or products from the marine food web.
Dr. Weitz: Can you explain why the fish that you’re offering is healthier than what a lot of other’s are selling? Such as the canned baby salmon that’s lower in mercury?
Randy Hartnell: Well, I think there’s some confusion there. I don’t know of anybody that’s selling canned baby salmon.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, okay.
Randy Hartnell: Salmon are relatively short lived species. So even if you get a grown up salmon, it’s going to be only four years old. It’s going to have relatively low mercury levels. Where the younger fish come in is with the longer lived species. So like a halibut, or a tuna. They can over many years, they can get huge. So if you’re going to the market to buy fish for your family, and you’re aware of this contaminant issue, you’re going to choose the smaller fish. So that’s what we do. We just buy the kinds of fish that we want to feed our families and we know that our customers appreciate it. When it comes to those longer lived fish, that means that you want the smaller ones.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, okay. I thought that you had some sort of salmon that had less mercury in it?
Randy Hartnell: No, I think what you’re thinking about is … because we have a lot of fans for our product called our Ventresca.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, okay, yeah.
Randy Hartnell: Which are smaller tuna.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, tuna, okay.
Randy Hartnell: Albacore tuna. A lot of-
Dr. Weitz: That’s what I meant. Yes, yes, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Randy Hartnell: A lot of people, health experts tell people just to avoid tuna.
Dr. Weitz: Exactly.
Randy Hartnell: It’s an unfair generalization because there are 800 pound tuna that have sky high mercury levels, and there are three pound, five pound skipjack tuna that are two or three years old that have relatively low levels, and relatively high omega 3 levels. So it’s not fair to the fishery, to the industry, to the community out there just to tell people to avoid all tuna. It really is based on a lack of knowledge about that type of fish.
Dr. Weitz: Right. So you’re using the younger tuna and those are much lower in mercury, right?
Randy Hartnell: That’s right. The University of Oregon, I believe, did a study on albacore caught off the coast of Oregon, Northwest Washington. Where they drew a correlation between tuna size, or age, and mercury levels. Now generally the smaller fish have lower mercury levels. The interesting thing is they also have higher omega 3 levels in our experience. Just remarkably high fat levels in these younger tuna. When I first went down to the dock to meet our fisherman, his name is Paul Hill and he’s been a … he’s a second generation tuna fisherman and when I told him we only wanted to buy his small fish and he just couldn’t wrap his brain around that. He said, “My whole life, my dad’s whole career the buyers told us that the small fish were trash, and they wouldn’t pay us anything for them. And you’re telling me that’s all you want?” That’s all we’ve doing now for probably 16 years.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, interesting.
Randy Hartnell: That’s great for him because you know, the big buyers, they want the bigger fish. The yields are higher, they’re less costly to process. Our customers are more focused on the purity and the health benefits and those are both delivered in a superior way by the younger fish.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, okay.
Randy Hartnell: The one thing I want to clarify is we’re not out there … he’s not out there targeting little fish, right? He’s just catching fish and they’re part of every load. So when he comes in, he size grades-
Dr. Weitz: Oh okay.
Randy Hartnell: … and we take the small ones. So it’s-
Dr. Weitz: You’re not going after the tuna nursery schools?
Randy Hartnell: No. That’s right.
Dr. Weitz: I figured you’d just wait until the tuna come across the border and then you separate the mothers from the baby … no, I’m kidding. So what about some of the reports that some of the seafood is mislabeled when you go to buy it?
Randy Hartnell: You know, that’s been going on forever because it’s really easy to bait and switch people. I like to tell this story of many years ago I was back … and like I said, things haven’t changed that much, so it’s still applicable. I was back in New York City at the Fulton Fish Market, and I met Dr. Andrew Weil. I was going to show him around the fish market.
Dr. Weitz: Oh cool.
Randy Hartnell: We had a video crew with us. We walked into this one stall, Slavin and Sons, I believe it was. I noticed … this was in November, which is not wild salmon season. I noticed all these pallets of boxes piled high and on the end of the box it said wild king salmon. So I asked him … I think it was the grandson of the founder … I said, “Where in the world are you getting all these fresh wild king salmon this time of the year?” And he goes, “Why those are farmed wild king salmon.” People don’t want to pay for real wild king salmon. I went back and wrote an article in our newsletter about it. Marianne Burrows at the New York Times somehow got that, and she called me up and she said, “Well, we want to do an investigative report about this.” So sure enough a few weeks later, the front page of the Sunday New York Times was a big story about the bait and switch. Fast forward to just last year or two, there was a big study done in California basically showing half the fish in sushi bars is mislabeled. There was one species like an Asian carp or something that was labeled as more than a dozen different types of other fish.
Dr. Weitz: Wow.
Randy Hartnell: Then of course one of the most common examples that I run into is in restaurants. As more and more consumers become educated and they’re requesting wild salmon and they understand the differences, the less scrupulous restaurants are just calling their farmed salmon, wild. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone in and it said wild salmon on the menu and it’s clearly not been wild salmon. So it’s just something people have to be aware of and-
Dr. Weitz: Now, can you tell just by looking at it? Are there things that the consumers can detect?
Randy Hartnell: I probably eat more salmon than just about anybody on the planet and caught millions of pounds of salmon and I can’t always tell.
Dr. Weitz: The color seems to be different right?
Randy Hartnell: Well, the aquaculture industry has done a good job of mimicking wild salmon color. The farmed salmon, they’re not eating what wild salmon are eating. They’re not getting the krill and the phytoplankton.
Dr. Weitz: Right. That’s one of the main issues right? The fish are getting the omega 3’s because of what they’re eating, and then-
Randy Hartnell: So their diet … the farmed salmon diet is supplemented with a synthetic version of that compound that will turn the fish flesh the color that resembles wild salmon.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah, essentially they’re dying the fish pink?
Randy Hartnell: Yeah, I guess you could say that, right, right.
Dr. Weitz: So those farmed fish are being fed a much less healthy sources of nutrition, isn’t that right?
Randy Hartnell: In the early days when we first started, the primary criticism against farmed salmon was that it had much higher levels of contaminants. A lot more PCP’s and-
Dr. Weitz: Right.
Randy Hartnell: … and that was because they were being fed predominantly rendered fish feed. So they’d go out and catch tons of anchovies and sardines. They would render them down into pellets. While those individual sardines and anchovies just had minuscule levels of contaminants, when you render them down and concentrate them into pellets, you’re concentrating all those contaminants. Then you start feeding basically livestock fish it’s entire life, it accumulates. Also fish feed like that is very expensive, relatively expensive. So there were two challenges, it was expensive and it was giving their farmed salmon the high contaminant levels. So, how do you address that? Well, you find cheaper feed that doesn’t have contaminants in it. That, just like every other livestock turns out to be grains. So farmed salmon now have been fed increasing amounts of grain products.
I’m sure the aquaculture and scientists are trying to figure out how they could get away feeding pretty much all. Because it’s the cheapest possible thing you can feed them. Consequently the farmed salmon are fat. The profile no longer mimics the wild salmon. It has much higher levels of omega 6’s from the grains. I’m speaking generally here that there may be exceptions. I’m sure there are salmon farmers out there that are trying to do the right thing. Trying to-
Dr. Weitz: Yeah, but for those of us in the Functional Medicine world, many of us are trying to stay away from grains, and advising our patients to stay away from grains. Then we go eat fish and to find out that the fish actually contain inflammatory omega 6’s because they ate grains. Potentially we may be exposed to some of the same immune issues that some of us have when we react to gluten.
Randy Hartnell: Wild salmon, say a wild sockeye salmon has roughly nine omega 3’s for every omega 6. King salmon might be six to one. Basically, wild salmon you’re getting a lot more omega 3’s than you are 6’s. A farmed salmon is, last I heard, roughly one to one. So if you’re trying to improve that ration, it’s pretty hard to do with farmed salmon.
Dr. Weitz: Absolutely, absolutely. How about being able to detect other fish … one species from the other? Are there any hints that we can use if we go to a fish market?
Randy Hartnell: You know Ben, the best way to protect yourself is just find a good fish monger that you can trust. Or find a good restaurant that the person running it really knows what he’s doing. The problem is people are often driven by price. When you want the cheapest anything, you go to places that generally don’t hire the most knowledgeable people. They’re just trying to move product and they don’t know what they’re selling. I’m talking about a fish counter, or restaurant.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah.
Randy Hartnell: That’s really, I think, the safest way. I figure out which restaurants in know that I can trust that care about their reputation and would never bait and switch a customer and that’s who we try to be for our customers. As far as … you go into a sushi bar and they tell you it’s some white fish, how in the heck are you going to know unless you do a DNA test on it?
Dr. Weitz: Yeah.
Randy Hartnell: As for your original question, it’s really difficult for people. That’s why it’s so common. That’s why so many people get away with it. Because there are very few penalties for people who get caught. Other than their reputation.
Dr. Weitz: So we can order fish frozen through your company?
Randy Hartnell: Yeah, we have a broad line of premium Alaskan frozen seafood and then we also have canned, and pouched seafood. Our product line has really expanded over the years. We’ve also got other proteins, but seafood is still our passion in what we do. Now we just … to put it as simply as possible, we just … my wife and I started the company. My brother and sister still work in the company, we’ve grown quite a bit. But really we’re just buying products that we want to eat ourselves. That we can trust and we apply that standard to everything that we buy.
Dr. Weitz: What about some of the reports of the plastics. There recently have been a bunch of reports about micro particles of plastic in fish?
Randy Hartnell: It’s definitely concerning. It’s a horrible problem, how it impacts salmon in Alaska. I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s impacting them, although of course all of our oceans, none of them are pristine anymore. One of our big missions from the start is what can we do to protect the seafood resource? To protect the oceans? Most of our charitable efforts over the years have gone toward environmental organizations working to protect the ocean. One personal mission I have is just by educating people like you do about how incredibly important seafood is. Hopefully people will start to make the connection if we don’t have healthy oceans, we’re not going to have seafood. If we don’t have seafood, we’re not going to be as healthy or have it to enjoy. It’s already happening in many parts of the world.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah. You know, I hear these discussions sometimes where you get these really smart people like Elon Musk and even Steven Hawkings before he died recently, talking about how we need to explore Mars because we’ll probably have to leave the planet, because we’re destroying it. It’s just insane to think “Why don’t we just protect it?” That would make a lot more sense.
Randy Hartnell: And Mars once we get there too, right?
Dr. Weitz: Right.
Randy Hartnell: Well, there won’t be any oceans to mess up. I think there’s room for both, and I do see some encouraging signs that … there are more and more people becoming aware of these problems. And more and more people working on solutions. So hopefully they will be successful.
Dr. Weitz: What do you think about this new genetically modified salmon? What’s it called? The AquaBounty or something like that?
Randy Hartnell: Well, that’s sort of been on our radar for more than 10 years. What to say about it?
Dr. Weitz: It grows twice as fast as other salmon.
Randy Hartnell: It’s not available in American markets now that I’m aware. There’s been such a push back from the consumer that to my knowledge, it’s not available.
Dr. Weitz: I mean, once a species is out in the public, in the wild … I know they say they’re going to keep it contained. But my worry is it’s going to take over. You know?
Randy Hartnell: I maybe have some good news there. Because these are Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar is the species. I live in the Pacific northwest. So we have five different wild salmon species that populate this region. Years ago, somebody thought it was a good idea. “Let’s bring in some Atlantic salmon and plant them. See if we can get them going. Then we’ll have six species in the wild.” They tried multiple times to bring in healthy, truly wild Atlantic salmon and they just would not take. They’ve never been able to survive. So I think that’s one fear that’s probably not serious. I’m sure if they escape … and sometimes the Atlantic salmon farms will have escapes. Just last year, here in Washington state, hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon got out. There’s no evidence that they’re displacing the wild salmon. They’re finding them with empty bellies. They’ve been fed their whole lives. For generations they’ve been hand fed, machine fed, whatever it is. I’m not an expert, but I do pay attention and I have never seen any evidence that they are displacing the wild salmon. There are a lot of other concerns, habitat destruction, but I don’t think GMO salmon present that much of a risk to the wild salmon.
Dr. Weitz: What about some of the issues about over fishing and sustainability?
Randy Hartnell: You know, that’s a huge problem around the world. There’s good news there on several fronts. Over the last 10 years there’s been an increased consumer focus on that issue. There’s one organization … there’s probably 30 different organizations focused on sustainable seafood and it’s growing all the time. It’s confusing for consumers because there are so many different ones. Some of them sort of have maybe less than noble agendas. There’s one that’s sort of the gold standard, and we were one of their first licensee’s way back in 2002. That’s the Marine Stewardship Council. Basically what they do is they will go in and assess a fishery and look at the impact of a particular fishery on other species. It’s very rigorous, it could take years to get a fishery certified as being sustainably managed. So, Alaska was the first fishery state wide, all their salmon were certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. There’s a little blue logo you can find. If you go to msc.org you can learn a lot more about it.
The result is more and more consumers are looking for sustainable seafood. It’s kind of like what we talked about earlier, if you go to stores and restaurants that have made their business about sourcing only sustainable seafood then you can pretty much trust that you’re getting fish that are coming from responsibly managed fisheries. We only source fisheries from healthy, sustainable, sources. Alaska is really a model for the world. A lot of people are unaware of this, but Alaska pursued statehood in part to take control of their fisheries back from a federal government, which was mismanaging them, imagine that. They wrote right into their founding constitution that all the fishery sources would be managed on a sustainable yield basis. Basically what that means is scientists, biologists, are in charge of those salmon runs. They’re isolated from the market. No matter how much the market demand is for wild salmon, the scientists are going to dictate how many are caught. Then they’ll take those that are caught and they’ll go out into the market. Just this year, or the last couple of years in Crystal Bay Alaska, where I used to fish, they’ve had the biggest runs they’ve ever seen since they’ve been keeping track.
Dr. Weitz: Oh wow, cool.
Randy Hartnell: … 50, 60 million salmon coming back. It’s just an amazing story.
Dr. Weitz: Is there any increasing demand for wild salmon now that people are more educated about it’s benefits?
Randy Hartnell: Huge. Because back when I was a fisherman, if we had a big run like this, our price would collapse. Then farmed salmon came along and people just buy farmed salmon. But now a lot of people are a lot more knowledgeable about farmed salmon, they want wild and they’ll pay more to get wild. So now the fisherman are doing really well. Even though that was the biggest run they’ve had in 50 years, the price was almost as high as it’s ever been. So the fisherman are doing a good job and being well rewarded for it. That was another part of our mission was to educate people about the differences so that they would create demand, drive the price up. Because the whole fishing industry is really the most vocal, political advocate for the salmon resource. There are all kinds of competing industries that want to come in and destroy the Alaska salmon habitat, just like they have in the rest of the country.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah, we keep reading reports about how they’re opening up more mining and more oil drilling off the coast of Alaska, it’s kind of scary.
Randy Hartnell: We have a saying, if you want to save wild salmon, you need to eat wild salmon. Stay wild, eat wild. Because a healthy salmon industry is the last line of defense for these wild salmon. If your livelihood depends on catching these fish, then you’re going to do everything you can to make sure they’re managed responsibly, that the habitat is protected. So far, they’ve been successful of fending off this trillion dollar mine. This mine that they want to put in, it’s called the Pebble Mine up in Bristol Bay.
Dr. Weitz: I heard about that. Wasn’t that just approved again, or something?
Randy Hartnell: Well, with the current administration they’re not big defenders of the environment … Yes they did, but I don’t think … as long as you’ve got a trillion dollars worth of minerals sitting in the ground, the fight is never going to be over, right? If was those fisherman, the native communities along there that just made passionate pleas and reached out, and got help from a lot of the bigger environmental organizations. Politicians and commerce. Tiffany said, “We will never buy gold from those mines up there.” They’re just one example of many. It was a fisherman that really … the heart and soul of that fight, and continue to be.
Dr. Weitz: Well, that’s good. Good to get some positive thoughts about that. Everybody get out there and eat your wild salmon.
Randy Hartnell: The one last thing I want to say about the sustainability issue. There’s a book called ‘Perfect Protein’ by Andy Sharpless who is the CEO of Oceana.
Dr. Weitz: Okay.
Randy Hartnell: He points out the sustainability movement that’s been underfoot is really having a positive impact. Fisheries around the world are stabilizing. If you’re out there harvesting fish that, in an unsustainable way, you’re over catching or whatever. The market doesn’t want those, so that’s going to force you to clean up your act. That’s basically what’s been happening. There’s still bad actors out there of course. There’s still some little black holes and we don’t really know what’s going on. By and large there have been a lot of fisheries that have recovered and are doing a lot better. Now we just need to focus on cleaning up the ocean.
Dr. Weitz: When it comes to sourcing omega 3’s, some of the companies go, “Oh, our omega 3’s are from more sustainable sources. Some of them are from krill and some are from Norwegian fish. Some are from squid and things like that. From the standpoint of sustainability, what’s the truth about the best place to source your omega 3’s?
Randy Hartnell: Well you know more about this than I do, probably. I don’t think that anybody will tell you that … the best form of omega 3’s is in food.
Dr. Weitz: No, I know but if you are going to say use fish oil capsules, is krill a problem because that’s what the whales eat? Or is it better-
Randy Hartnell: That’s a great question, that’s a really great question. The thing about krill oil is it’s all the rage in the nutrition and health world.
Dr. Weitz: Right.
Randy Hartnell: The consumption of krill oil is relatively minuscule compared to the population of krill. There’s a massive krill biomass in the antarctic. The total allowable catch is like a thing slice of that pie. The amount that’s actually caught is a super thin slice of that pie. So they’re not even approaching the total amount that they’re allowed to catch, conservative guidelines. So the Marine Stewardship Council as a result has looked at that and from a scientific perspective, and they have certified krill oil, we were the very first krill oil, actually. I happened to be in the offices of the Marine Stewardship Council in London, the day the approval came through. I said, “Wow, this is great. We can add MSC certified krill oil.” Because Whole Foods had stopped selling krill oil because of the concerns that you mentioned. It’s one of those things where it was a PR, it was kind of a green washing PR move. Or at least they were holding off until they were convinced that it was a sustainable product.
Dr. Weitz: What about fish oil from say squid versus fish? Is there an issue of sustainability there? Does it make a difference, you think?
Randy Hartnell: Depends on where the fish are coming from. A lot of the fish oil comes from the big anchovy fisheries in Peru. It’s one of the biggest fisheries in the world.
Dr. Weitz: Right.
Randy Hartnell: It’s a regional type of … a certain type of fish in a certain region. I’ve listened to a woman from Peru who manages their fisheries down there, talk about how it would be so much better if we consumed these fish, these incredible omega 3 rich fish as food rather than rendering it down and feeding it to salmon. Right? Which is where a lot of it goes. Or turning it into to fish oil for humans. You’re just better off eating a can of sardines than eating the fish oil. We have supplements. We have fish oil, sockeye salmon oil, but I just eat fish almost every day, or several times a week like you do. Because that’s the best source of omega 3’s. If you’re eating a sustainable fish than that addresses your question. As far as the quality of omega 3’s from squid versus green lip mussels, versus salmon, or whatever, sardines. I don’t know, my sense is that I’ve talked to a lot of scientists and lipid scientists. Their opinion is essentially an EPA or DHA omega 3 molecule doesn’t really matter where you get it from a nutritional standpoint.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah.
Randy Hartnell: Although the krill oil in is phospholipid form, so there’s some case that’s more bio available. Nothing is more bio available than the omega 3’s you get in the fish itself.
Dr. Weitz: Right. So the conclusion really is to just eat more fish.
Randy Hartnell: Eat more sustainable fish.
Dr. Weitz: Sustainable.
Randy Hartnell: Alaskan salmon and sardines, and what not.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah, yeah. Those are the fish that I tend to eat the most as well. Okay, great. So how can our listeners and viewers find out more about your products? Order your products?
Randy Hartnell: Go to Vitalchoice.com and we have tons of information. We’re really passionate about education. We have a news letter that … we do some science based articles about the environment. A lot of these things we’ve talked about. There’s also specials for the products. We have absolutely fantastic customer service. So you can call us 24/7 and talk to knowledgeable customer reps about these products. We have 100% money back guarantee, if you don’t like … we have a lot of pressure on us to make sure what we send people is good. I think we’re close to 11,000 reviews on our website now.
Dr. Weitz: That’s great. What’s the low mercury tuna called again?
Randy Hartnell: Well, I’ll tell you but it’s probably not going to be in stock. We can’t keep it in stock.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, is that right? Wow.
Randy Hartnell: We call it Ventresca.
Dr. Weitz: Yes.
Randy Hartnell: That’s the belly of the young tuna. But just all of our canned albacore tuna is fantastic. It’s a superb, good source of omega 3’s. It’s coming from those smaller fish so it’s going to be the best risk reward ratio there. I’m not sure how much time we have left, but I didn’t want to go without giving an opportunity to discuss the whole mercury radiation.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, okay, yeah, sure. Yeah, absolutely, let’s go into it. So why don’t we start with the mercury? My understanding is most of the mercury is being dumped into the ocean from coal fire powered plants, right?
Randy Hartnell: One thing that’s interesting is that a lot of the … at least half of the methyl mercury that’s in the oceans is from natural sources. It’s eroded … the land masses over the eons have eroded down. They found remains of Inuit Eskimos 10,000 years old. They do hair analysis and they find mercury in their hair.
Dr. Weitz: Oh really?
Randy Hartnell: So it’s not like mercury is a new thing. In fact it’s always been there in the marine environment and life evolved in the ocean.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, because people are always talking about coal fired power plants spewing hundreds of tons of mercury into the atmosphere. Which then falls down into the ocean.
Randy Hartnell: I’m not saying that’s not a factor. That is a factor and it also makes for a great copy if you’re trying to raise funds for your environmental organization. You know, follow the money right? So it is a legitimate concern, but honestly we are burning less coal and that’s a good thing.
Dr. Weitz: Right.
Randy Hartnell: … than other parts of the world are. Anyway, the main takeaway here is if you look at people who eat the most seafood in the world, take Japan for example. 80 plus million people that eat seafood many, many times a week. Pregnant women eat seafood many times a week. They’re not the sickest people on the planet. You don’t find mercury toxicity. You find that they’re some of the healthiest, longest living … and it’s complex. It’s not only the fact that they’re eating a lot of seafood. There are other things maybe they’re not doing. They’re not eating an American diet. We are exporting our bad food over there too I guess.
Dr. Weitz: Oh yeah, we’re exporting our rates of diabetes and heart disease, and cancer as well.
Randy Hartnell: The bottom line is they have some of the lowest infant mortality. They live the longest. The lowest amount of different types of common diseases that we have. If you go to a place like the Seychelle Islands where seafood is pretty much their primary protein, they’re eating 15, 16 times as much seafood as most Americans. There’s been a study run by the University of Rochester, I think, close to 30 years they’ve been looking at these people and they tested the mothers when they were pregnant for mercury levels. Yes, some of them have higher mercury levels that correlated higher fish consumption.
They fully assumed that as these kids got older … were born and got older that the kids born to the mom’s with the highest mercury levels would have the most developmental problems. They found no correlation. They did a study with 14,000 mother child pairs in the UK, same thing. It turned out that the kids born to mom’s who ate the most fish had the least developmental problems. The mom’s have the higher mercury problems, but the kids have the least developmental problems. Those are two very rigorous studies showing that these trace levels of mercury that people freak out about are … at least for most people, not an issue.
Dr. Weitz: Are you suggesting that’s because the levels are just not high enough to really cause problems?
Randy Hartnell: Well, there’s one hypothesis is that life evolved in the oceans, amid a background of methylmercury. So we developed a way to deal with it. The way that deals with it is selenium. Selenium binds with methylmercury and basically renders it harmless. Seafood is one of the richest sources of selenium. So in a sense you’re getting … We’ve got a lot about this on our website. If you just go to our website and type in selenium, or methylmercury there’s just a lot of information there, videos. But basically that’s one hypothesis that when you get methylmercury from seafood the concentrations are so low that the selenium basically is the anecdote to that.
As opposed to if you get mercury toxicity from industrial accidents … a lot of people like to talk about Minamata and the horrendous birth defects that came from the Minamata industrial accident in Minamata, Japan. Just horrible birth defects in the kids. But the levels of mercury that was in those fish in that area, they’re just orders of magnitude higher than anything you’d get in common seafood. So one of my closest friends at the NIH has studied this. He’s one of the authors in this study in the UK, his name is Dr. Joe Hibbeln. He said mercury is just not an issue in most common seafood. You want to avoid the shark and the big bill fish, the long lived high on the food chain-
Dr. Weitz: The swordfish and-
Randy Hartnell: Right. The sardines and the salmon and the kind of fish you find in most supermarkets, the benefits just so vastly outweigh the risks. He even concluded in his paper that was published in the Lancet that advice. Especially to pregnant and nursing women to avoid seafood risks causing the harm are trying to prevent. So you’re telling women … I had a friend his name is Barton Seaver, he’s written a bunch of books on seafood on the east coast. They just had a child here a year or two ago. They went to the OBGYN and they looked for the best OBGYN in the Boston area. They went in and she told his wife don’t eat any seafood while you’re pregnant. This still is going on out there. So they’re conclusion based on 14,000 mother child pairs was when you give that mother than advice, you risk causing cognitive deficits that you’re trying to avoid. So they’re well intended, but they’re just not up to speed on where the science is.
Dr. Weitz: Okay. What about some of the other toxins?
Randy Hartnell: So the PCP … it kind of applies … we used to do a lot of testing on our Alaskan seafood. We just saw the same basically low results every time. we never had a spike. Pink salmon is only out in the ocean for two years, that’s it’s life cycle, two years. A sockeye salmon, four years. Maybe a king salmon will live six years, but they’re not like these longer lived fish like the Chilean sea bass or a halibut or whatever.
Dr. Weitz: Chilean sea bass is on the list of fish that are among the highest in mercury now.
Randy Hartnell: Well I was just looking at that yesterday, because there is no an MSC certified Chilean sea bass and we’ve had a lot of requests for it. Again, it lives a long time. So if you look at the studies it has super high mercury levels if you get the bigger ones. That’s typically what industry wants, they want the bigger ones because they’re cheaper to process. If you get the little ones, they’re comparable to an albacore tuna or something. So not that bad. The big takeaway is just risk versus reward. These nutrients … like a wild salmon is … I never heard anybody make a case that there’s any other food on the planet that’s more nutrient dense than a wild salmon. We’ve got all the fats, the proteins, the micronutrients. It’s just incredibly nutrient dense type of food. The other is there are going to be trace levels of mercury and maybe some other contaminants, but we’ve got to eat something, you know
Dr. Weitz: What about all these plastics? Some of these reports on the plastic stuff is pretty scary.
Randy Hartnell: You know, I talked to Dr. Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington, he’s a fisheries expert, he’s written a lot of books. He’s one of the leading scientists in fisheries, about this. From a nutritional standpoint, he wasn’t aware of any evidence that there’s harm. I think also it’s a matter of choosing species that are coming from the cleanest areas. I think if the fish is ingesting the plastic, typically it’s going to pass through the gut and not make it’s way into the flesh. I haven’t seen any evidence that it is.
Dr. Weitz: Well, these new articles about the microparticles, you know?
Randy Hartnell: Yeah. It’s concerning. I’m not trying to-
Dr. Weitz: We’ve got to do something about these just floating patches of plastic. It’s just incredible. I can’t believe we’re not concerned about it.
Randy Hartnell: Well I think there are a lot of people that are concerned about it. They just hauled a bunch of big … I don’t know if you’ve seen the story about the young guy that came up with this idea about how to collect it and-
Dr. Weitz: Oh, I saw the commercials where these two guys are like diving under the water and picking up plastic and stuff.
Randy Hartnell: Yeah, there’s an organization that we support called Plastic Bank. In fact I just saw an American Express commercial that featured them, which is pretty cool. They’re just based up in Vancouver, an hour from us. They’ve come up with this model where they go to a lot of areas around the world where plastic accumulates on the beach. It’s pretty horrendous in a lot of places like Bali. We think of these tropical paradise and they’ve just been destroyed by all this. Well they go in and they basically create an economy around the plastic. So they pay people to go out and pick up plastic on the beaches, then they haul it back to these recycling centers that they set up. That’s Plastic Bank, I don’t know if it’s dot org or dot com. There are just more and more of those kinds of efforts springing up. I look at is as … when they say all progress starts with the truth and we have to start acknowledging what we’re doing to the oceans. And also realize how vitally important the oceans are to our own well being. You can’t have a healthy planet, healthy population without healthy oceans. So we’re working to educate people and do what we can to support that.
Dr. Weitz: Excellent. I think that’s a good note to end on. We need to have healthy oceans to have a healthy planet. We need a healthy planet to have healthy human beings.
Randy Hartnell: That’s right, that’s right. That’s why we called our company Vital Choice. It’s a vital choice to choose the right seafood from the right fisheries.
Dr. Weitz: Well sounds like you’re on a good mission and I know you have a great product. So thank you for bringing some information about fish and seafood to us, Randy.
Randy Hartnell: Thank you Ben, really a pleasure.
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