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A Quick Word About Farm-Raised Bluefin Tuna

As many of you know, for some months now I’ve been going all Rooster Cogburn on restaurants in Las Vegas that serve the gravely endangered Bluefin Tuna.  While this war has been waged, many defenders of Bluefin consumption have erroneously pointed to farming and ranching techniques as the savior of the Bluefin.  They call it “sustainable aquaculture,” but the farming and ranching of any fish, let alone the Bluefin, couldn’t be further from it.

Bluefin Tuna Where They Need To Be (photo: endoverfishing.org)

Bluefin Tuna Where They Need To Be (photo: endoverfishing.org)

The biggest problem with farming fish comes with the techniques used to feed the fish.  Large trawling nets are used to scrape up whatever they can, completely uprooting ecosystems as they pass through.  The “farmers” take what they want and need and toss the rest, senselessly destroying what little life remained in the spot where they trawled.  And by the way, it takes approximately 20 kilograms of feed to produce 1 kilogram of tuna.  Sustainable?

Bluefin ranches are sprouting up all across the Mediterranean, but they take small Bluefin from the wild and fatten them up in pens…so what’s the point.  In reaction to this, the defenders of Bluefin consumption point to the world’s largest consumer of Bluefin, Japan, for developing farming techniques that bring the Bluefin up from eggs.  It sounds all well and good until you realize that adult Bluefin won’t naturally mate in pens.  Bluefin are migratory animals that like to travel long distances, much like how eager beaver co-eds flock to Cancun.  Unfortunately, a candlelit room and Barry White on the radio doesn’t work on fish, so the Bluefin are injected with a synthetic version of the hormone, GnRH, so they’ll  feel frisky in the pens they’re held in.  One only has to look as far as Monsanto and Perdue to see how well that’s going to work.

At the end of the day, it’s simply best to stay away from ALL Bluefin Tuna.  We had a good run eating their tasty flesh, now it’s time to give them a break.  Both Bigeye and Yellowtail tunas that aren’t long line caught are fine alternatives to the Bluefin (as of the writing of this post).  Of course, to get the most up to date information on what to eat and what to avoid in the seafood world, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch at http://seafoodwatch.org.

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Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife.

Follow Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

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12 comments to A Quick Word About Farm-Raised Bluefin Tuna

  • DALE

    THE MAJORITY OF WHAT YOU SAY IS WRONG. A LITTLE OF IT IS RIGHT BUT ONLY APPLIES TO BLUE-FIN TUNA. YOU REALLY SHOULD GET AT LEAST SOME OF YOUR INFORMATION RIGHT BEFORE YOU PUBLISH SOMETHING. YOU SHOULD STICK TO PLAYING POKER AND MUSIC. YOU DID SAY YOU WERE AN AMATEUR BLOGGER SO I GUESS I SHOULD NOT EXPECT MUCH MORE.

  • Dale,

    Since this is hardly an academic / scientific journal, I didn’t take the time to footnote every fact I stated. Let me know what points you disagree with and I’ll gladly point you in the direction of the research that backs it up. But I promise you, there is qualified research to back up every statement (with the co-ed line in exception) line I made. All you have is capital letters. Oh, and thanks for the confidence in both my poker ability and musicianship. Much appreciated!

  • Jeff

    Dale,
    Please do indicate which of Mike’s points are in error. I’m a supporter of Bluefin bans because all of the reading I’ve been able to do on the subject of overfishing, aquaculture, trawling, and long-lining supports what Mike states; I’d like to know where I’m being misled.

  • Rick D

    While I do disagree with Mike on part of this, I’d like to start by echoing Mike’s & Jeff’s comments to Dale. Dale, please specify where Mike has gone wrong (preferably using a reasonable mix of upper and lower case letters). Should you not be able to do so, please bring your keyboard in for repairs ;-) .

    Mike, I agree with the overall argument (and boycott Bluefin tuna myself) but the argument that it’s not sustainable because it takes 20kg of feed to make 1kg of tuna is a weak argument. Indeed, virtually any meat (beef, pork, etc.) takes more weight in feed per pound of meat. A quick google search shows anywhere between 6 to 15 pounds of feed to 1 pound of beef. So unless you’re prepared to give up beef, pork, etc., I wouldn’t be justifying my argument on tuna with that.

    Otherwise, I’m pleased that Bachi Burger listened, apologized, and made a change. It’s hard for me to be more impressed with them than I already was, but there you go. You did it again, Bachi Burger.

  • Being misled

    1) Ranched Bluefin are fed various fish species, all of which are caught by mid-water trawling. No ecosystems are “uprooted’ by this technique of fishing.

    2) It’s closer to 3 kilos of feed to fatten 1 kilo of tuna.

    3) Bluefin ranches are not sprouting up all across the Mediterranean. In fact, the industry is retracting.

    4) Captive Bluefin are in fact being bred in captivity at Kinki University in Japan. This without the help of Barry White.

    5) There is no such thing as “Yellowtail Tuna.” Yellowtail is a completely different species from tuna!

    Mike, stick with poker. You should not be commenting on a subject you obviously know absolutely nothing about!

  • Jeff – Thanks so much for the kind words and the support.

    Rick D. – Thanks for the comment. Comparing feed for beef / pork / poultry animals to what Bluefin eat is comparing apples to oranges. Bluefin eat live fish while the land animals are primarily fed grains, corn and grasses. The problems involved with feeding cows corn is a whole different topic, but is related to the attempt to feed Bluefin barley. Barley don’t grow in the ocean. Bluefin aren’t designed to eat barley.

    Being misled – Let it be known that he / she picked the name and not I. Pretty funny and quite appropriate. Let me answer your points one by one.

    1.) This ties in with point #2, but the number of fish needed to feed the Bluefin most certainly puts ecosystems in grave danger. Taking away an essential part of the food chain will screw over the wild fish in favor of the ranched ones. And hardly all ranches use product from strictly midwater.

    2.) The number you quote is for salmon and not tuna. Tuna is up to 20 kg for every 1 kg of product. LIke I said. Here’s a link to the Marine Conservation Society – http://www.fishonline.org/farmed/finfish.php#link4

    3.) I tend to not trust industry spin machines, which is really where 4 of the 5 points you made came from. While the EU continues to crunch down on the “official” numbers, it doesn’t mean everything done is on the books. From Pew Charitable Trusts – http://www.pewtrusts.org/news_room_detail.aspx?id=61712

    4.) Never denied that they are spawning in captivity. However I did bring up the synthetic hormone treatments, which is the major issue. From the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute – http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/farm-raised-bluefin-tuna-spawn-controversy

    5.) I beg your pardon 1,000 times on this one. My apologies. Obviously I meant Yellowfin and not Yellowtail. My bad for not catching that in my proofreading.

    Hope this helps. I guess I know a little bit, huh?

  • Being misled

    I tend to not trust concervationist spin machines, which is really where all your points came from.

    The sole opjective of these organisations is eliminating commercial fishing, at any cost. Regardless of whether its warranted or not. Groups like the Pew Trust and the Marine Conservation Society don’t deal with facts. They traffic in misinformation and rhetoric. The truth is that Bluefintuna management is finally working. The most recent SCRS science indicates that stocks are beginning to rebound. Overfishing is no longer taking place.

    Mike, you obviously know absolutely nothing about fisheries biology and commercial fishing. Why comment on this topic if you dont know the facts? Do you believe everything you read on the internet? The information you are being fed by these conservation groups is flat out incorrect.

    I have decades of experience managing tuna ranch operations in Canada, Spain, Malta and Croatia. The feed ratio for Mediterranea Bluefin is around 3-1.

    Mike, please learn the facts before initiating a misguided campaign that will hurt lawful and compliant American fishermen.

  • LOL!!! You should of told me you were a company man in the first place! Of course I’ll take your word over reputable independent research firms that have no stake either way in the success / failure of the bluefin ranching market! My bad.

    In all seriousness though, thanks for posting your comments on here. It’s good to have the corporate rhetoric on here so readers can choose between the two viewpoints. You know…the right one and the wrong one ;-)

  • Being misled

    I’m very curious Mike, what reputable independent research firms are you referring to?

  • Being misled

    Just what I thought, Mike. You swallowed that mumbo-jumbo being pushed by Greenpeace and the CBD without making any effort to find out the real facts about the Bluefin Tuna…

  • Please don’t take my ignoring you as a submission to your industry propaganda. I gave you a place to post your industry spin, I put up my research-supported information from respected independent firms, now the readers can decide. Nothing much else to say, for now. By all means, go ahead and respond to your heart’s content. It’s not going to change the fact that you’re coming from a position of obvious bias.

  • Being misled

    Actually, I’m retired and have no interest whatsoever in the tuna industry. It just bothers me that people like you Mike, initiate these ill conceived and hurtful campaigns without taking any time to learn the true facts about the species!

    Again Mike, I’m simply asking you to provide the source of the “research-supported information from respected independent firms” that you cite here. The CBD and Greenpeace are not independant research firms. They actually don’t use any science and are not respected by the scientific community. Please provide the source of your claims. Which independant reasearch firms are you referring to?

    Actual independant science, such as the 2010 SCRS report indicates the stock of age 9+ breeders in the Western Atlantic is increasing, and Bluefin stocks are recovering nicely. But I’m sure with your background and limited knowlege of this subject, you can’t even understand what I’m talking about.

    This is what makes your campaign here so hurtful and misguided. Before misleading people on a blog, don’t you think it would be more responsable to actually perform some due diligence and learn the facts, Mike?

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