Farming the Bluefin

This has been one of the hardest prime fish to domesticate, but it is finally being done, as this story from Wall Street Journal reports.

An excerpt.

KUSHIMOTO, Japan— Tokihiko Okada was on his boat one recent morning when his cellphone rang with an urgent order from a Tokyo department store. Its gourmet food section was running low on sashimi. Could he rustle up an extra tuna right away?

Mr. Okada, a researcher at Osaka’s Kinki University, was only too happy to oblige—and he didn’t need a fishing pole or a net. Instead, he relayed the message to a diver who plunged into a round pen with an electric harpoon and stunned an 88-pound Pacific bluefin tuna, raised from birth in captivity. It was pulled out and slaughtered immediately on the boat.

Not long ago, full farming of tuna was considered impossible. Now the business is beginning to take off, as part of a broader revolution in aquaculture that is radically changing the world’s food supply.

“We get so many orders these days that we have been catching them before we can give them enough time to grow,” said Mr. Okada, a tanned 57-year-old who is both academic and entrepreneur. “One more year in the water, and this fish would have been much fatter,” as much as 130 pounds, he added.

With a decades long global consumption boom depleting natural fish populations of all kinds, demand is increasingly being met by farm-grown seafood. In 2012, farmed fish accounted for a record 42.2% of global output, compared with 13.4% in 1990 and 25.7% in 2000. A full 56% of global shrimp consumption now comes from farms, mostly in Southeast Asia and China. Oysters are started in hatcheries and then seeded in ocean beds. Atlantic salmon farming, which only started in earnest in the mid-1980s, now accounts for 99% of world-wide production—so much so that it has drawn criticism for polluting local water systems and spreading diseases to wild fish.

Until recently, the Pacific bluefin tuna defied this sort of domestication. The bluefin can weigh as much as 900 pounds and barrels through the seas at up to 30 miles an hour. Over a month, it may roam thousands of miles of the Pacific. The massive creature is also moody, easily disturbed by light, noise or subtle changes in the water temperature. It hurtles through the water in a straight line, making it prone to fatal collisions in captivity….

Today around one or two in 100 of the baby tuna hatching from eggs at Kinki survive to adulthood, up from one in several hundred a few years ago. By contrast, only about one in 30 million babies hatched from eggs in the wild survive to adulthood.

Other companies are also expanding their tuna business. Using Kinki-bred juvenile fish, a Mitsubishi Corp. unit has opened a commercial tuna ranch in southern Japan. It hopes to ship 300 tons of farm-bred tuna this year, up from 40 tons last year.

“We are seeing unprecedented demand for good-tasting fish, even from countries that didn’t eat fish before. We need to achieve self-sufficiency through farming. We can’t dip into natural resources anymore,” says Mr. Kumai, the longtime Kinki researcher.

Retrieved November 15, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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