Closed-cycle bluefin production growing

Japan’s Kinki University Fisheries Culture and Nursery Center — the first to successfully breed Pacific bluefin tuna in 2002 — is now harvesting the tuna and exporting some of it to the United States.

The tuna are born in the university’s labs, not taken from the oceans as with other tuna aquaculture operations. Low density stocking allows the fish to be raised without antibiotics.

The university branded the finished product “Kindai Maguro” and formed a marketing company called A-marine Kindai Co. Ltd. Main outlets are Japanese department stores, though some of it is exported. The meat has the fattiness of toro (belly meat) throughout the body.

The university’s full-cycle breeding program is in Wakayama Prefecture, with ocean pens in both Wakayama and Kagoshima Prefectures. In addition to its own production, Kinki supplies fry, known as yokowa, about two and a half months after hatching to Burimi Corp.

Burimi picks up the fry by boat from the university’s Wakayama breeding facility and releases them into their own net pens in Amakusa City, Kumamoto Prefecture. The company stocked 200 to 300 fry as a test in December 2007, then ramped it up to 3,000 in 2008 and 5,000 last year.

Burimi test marketed the product in the United States in November 2009, including sampling in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. The company ran a promotional campaign from January to March, including bloggers, to play up the sustainability of their product.

Reviews have been positive on taste, but mixed regarding sustainability. Though the product does not deplete wild fish stocks, some environmental activists worry that consumers will be confused by a sustainable bluefin tuna after so much effort has been spent on educating the public not to eat it. They also note that tuna is still a carnivorous fish, with a large volume of feed fish consumed to produce a small amount of tuna.

Supply is still well short of demand, and Burimi exports only 10 to 15 fish per week, with an equal number going to the domestic market, said President Tadaomi Hama.

Kinki University is also providing technical cooperation to Australia’s Clean Seas Tuna Ltd., a commercial operation in Port Lincoln, Australia, to produce southern bluefin tuna.

Interest is growing among Japanese tuna farms that currently depend on wild caught fry. Tokyo-based seafood company Kyokuyo is constructing two round net enclosures 50 meters across in Ainan City, Ehime Prefecture, where it will stock wild-caught yokawa. With an existing facility in Sukumo City, Kochi Prefecture, Kyokuyo expects to produce 500 to 600 metric tons of fish annually. The company aims to produce 1,000 metric tons per year by 2015 by adding two more locations.

Kyokuyo President Kiyokazu Fukui said in a recent Suisan Times interview, “We need to consider a way to obtain artificially-incubated yokowa through complete-cycle aquaculture in the future, not just limiting ourselves to wild yokowa.”

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