Another of our posts on aquaculture. Picture to the left is of Coronado Island in Baja California, home to an aquaculture center.

A study released in April by the International Union for Conservation of Nature offered a dire prediction:  Over 40 marine fish species in the Mediterranean could disappear in the next few years.  According to the report, commercial species, including the Bluefin Tuna, are considered threatened or near threatened with extinction at the regional level, mainly due to overfishing.

This statement is baffling when viewed in the light of the best available information on the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic Bluefin stock.  A recent study by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT)—whose scientific body, SCRS, published a report in autumn 2010, the most comprehensive assessment of the status of the stock ever made—found that the Bluefin Tuna stock is expected with 67% certainty to reach equilibrium in 2022, if the current annual quota of 12,900 metric tons is adhered to. Ceasing the fishing does only marginally improve the probability of full recovery in 2022. The current quota, if adhered to, makes it more than 95% likely that the stock will continue growing in the coming years, from the current status of 57% of its historical high point:

“Given all these improved monitoring, surveillance and control measures, and the results of the 2010 SCRS assessment, the total allowable catch (TAC) for 2011 was set at 12,900 tons for Eastern Bluefin tuna, which has a high chance (?95%) that the condition of the stock will improve in the coming years and...about 67% that it will be fully recovered by 2022.”

Historically, the Atlantic Bluefin stocks suffered from a lack of coordinated management. This changed dramatically after ICCAT commissioned an independent review of its practices in 2007.  However, there are practices that seafood companies can adopt today to ensure the sustainable use not only of tuna, but of any fish species.

Oli Valur Steindorsson, the author

Oli Valur Steindorsson, the author

In cases where the catch has not been limited, companies should encourage the relevant authorities to adhere to catch levels scientifically required to permit the replenishment of the species.  This goes for “catch and kill” and for farming alike.

In the case of aquaculture companies, the locations of farming sites are key to environmental and economical success.  A perfect site will take care of excrement, shelter the pens and be located in the vicinity of natural sources of feed.  It will have no industrial production nearby or natural predators to the farmed fish.  Additionally, with careful consideration, farm sites can be positioned in pristine environments so they offer natural shelter against most storms with water temperature, salt and oxygen levels favorable for sustainable growth.  Last but not least, the development of “closed cycle” farming technology could result in an economically viable farming business built around an in-house breeding program that will help to reduce the world’s demand on wild populations.  Ideally, the fish would be fed only its natural feed, with no chemicals, drugs or additives.  Via this approach, it may be possible to maintain a feed-conversion ratio measurably lower than the ratio required in the wild.

The ideal farming process will have minimal impact on the environment.  No pesticides, hormones, fertilizer or other non-organic products should be used in the farming process, including feed.  Additionally, the location of the farm should take into consideration the natural currents and flow of the surrounding waters in order to remove natural impurities from the area.

If the business practices outlined above are adopted on sufficiently wide scales, everyone will be able to enjoy a piece of sustainably grown fish on their plate.  Sustainability practices represent a major step in keeping the prized fish stocks thriving—and on our tables as well.  Let the story of the now-growing Bluefin stocks be a lesson.

Editor’s note: What do you think? We would appreciate a lively, but thoughtful and respectful, debate about aquaculture’s role in ensuring the sustainability of our food supply.

Salsipuedes Concession, Baja California, location of sustainable aquaculture

Salsipuedes Concession, Baja California, location of sustainable aquaculture

About The Author

Oli Valur Steindorsson

Oli Valur Steindorsson is Chief Executive Officer of Umami Sustainable Seafood, a holding company of fish farms supplying sashimi-grade Northern Bluefin Tuna to the global market. He can be reached at ovs@umamiseafood.com.