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A San Diego-based bluefin tuna (juvenile tuna pictured above) . Photo courtesy of Ichthus Unlimited

‘Not convinced it can’t be done’: A look inside California’s new bluefin tuna hatchery

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 16:00 (GMT + 9)

The following is an excerpt from an article published by the Global Aquaculture Advocate:

Ichthus Unlimited, primarily a fish feed company, brings fresh farming hopes to the ‘Tuna Capital of the World’

Like a doting father, Alejandro Buentello eagerly shows off the petite 44-day old bluefin tuna swimming and darting in a tidy row of see-through tanks. Getting the first bluefin tuna hatchery in North America up and running has been no small task, and Buentello still has a ways to go before his company, Ichthus Unlimited, reaches its goal of supplying hatchery-raised bluefin tuna for tuna ranchers south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The illuminated tanks are lined up near the wall of the 6,500-square foot San Diego facility. They’re tucked behind a large tarp used to cordon the fish off from the rest of the building in an effort to create an area of calm – an improvised tuna Zen garden. At only 9 cm, the 20 or so Atlantic bluefin tuna inside each tank are sensitive to loud noises, which can cause them to startle and careen into the walls of the Japanese-designed systems.

Ichthus Unlimited is first and foremost a feed company, the company stresses, and it has developed a feed that has reduced the feed conversion ratio from 20:1 (pounds of baitfish for every pound of tuna grown) to 4:1 (pounds of feed for every pound of tuna grown).Photo courtesy of Ichthus Unlimited.

Mariana Michelato Kawakami, Ichthus Unlimited’s project manager, gently taps a vial of tiny-sized pellets of feed into each tank, watching as the months-old tuna snap them up.

Bringing bluefin tuna aquaculture to a city once deemed “The Tuna Capital of the World” may seem a risky bet in a time where the pandemic has shuttered restaurants around the globe; as NOAA Fisheries pleads with tuna fishermen to secure buyers before fishing for the prized fish over concerns of sagging sales; and emerging cell-based seafood companies like San Diego-based BlueNalu or Bay area Finless Foods have set their sights on growing the premium product in labs. But Buentello insists the future looks bright for bluefin tuna aquaculture, emphasizing that Ichthus Unlimited is first and foremost a feed company.

The Ichthus Unlimited team poses outside its office in San Diego, Calif.Photo courtesy of Ichthus Unlimited

With a typical feed conversion ratio (FCR) of around 20:1 (pounds of baitfish required to grow 1 pound of tuna), keeping ranched bluefin fed has been notoriously expensive. Mexican tuna ranches rely on nearby Pacific sardine populations to fatten the fish, and when unavailable, turn to frozen supplies of herring – from areas like New England, Norway, the Baltic Sea and elsewhere – which can carry an added pathogen risk. Throw in less-than robust wild bluefin stocks available to harvest for ranching, and the path to success remain steep.

Buentello is betting that the solution will come in the form of a feed breakthrough and is aiming for aquaculture’s holy grail: a true fishmeal replacement.

“It doesn’t make sense that we increase the number of tuna [farms] if the resources aren’t here to support them,” he told the Advocate. “But if we provide sustainable feed and produce juveniles to reduce fishing pressure, the bottleneck of the species is resolved.”(continued...)

Author: Clare Leschin-Hoar/Global Aquaculture Advocate | Read the rest of the story by clicking the link here

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