Antonio Garcia Gomez is a Research Scientist at the Spanish Oceanographic Institute (Instituto Espaniol de Oceanografia).


Can tuna farming help avoid excessive fishing in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic?

Currently there are not any persuading reasons to prove if fish farming is reducing or increasing fishing. In my opinion, it is not having a negative or positive effect. In the future, it is possible that tuna might be raised from young fish to commercial size and this could reduce the strain on wild populations.

Do you think tuna aquiculture can help alleviate excessive fishing in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic?

In the future, when farming of tuna consists of production from young fish to commercial size, it is possible that it will reduce the strains on wild populations. Currently the system is not closed, that is to say that tuna are not raised from young fish, and therefore it does not have a significant impact on fishing. In the future, when tuna production consists of raising young fish to commercial size fish, this could mean some reduction in the strain on wild populations of tuna, on the fishing effort.

What is the motive of raising tuna in order to release them in the open ocean or farm them?
The experimental project that we are going to begin in 2003 with the collaboration of researchers of eight countries and nine institutions is a study of the feasibility of reproducing tuna in captivity. The objective is to try to develop a technique that allows a sustainable production of these species for farmers. This does not mean that the research or the techniques that are developed won't be used in the future to produce tuna for the purpose of enlarging wild populations.

The project will last three years with funding of the European Union. It's a feasibility study. That is to say that once the project is over we will have a clear idea of which techniques are more appropriate. Most likely we will have to begin a second part to the project to better and perfect this technique so farmers can use it. That is to say that in a period of five to ten years at most, hopefully this technique should be developed.

Is there anything else that is important to say about your research?

It is important to know that the research about tuna farming that is being carried out and will be carried out in the coming years. It will take place within a general research strategy of aquaculture in the Mediterranean as well as at a global level. It consists of diversifying fish production in aquaculture. It will go beyond the traditional species that have been raised during the last 15 to 20 years and begin to work with other types of species.

In this case, tuna is classified in the species as one of the species of high growth. The tuna is a species that grows 10 to 20 times faster than other traditional Mediterranean species, like sea bass, gilthead, and even including the salmon and the turbot. Nevertheless, these species have important economic interest because of their rapid growth. Other species need a year and one-half to reach commercial size, and the tuna can reach this size in a period of two to three months. This is important. Therefore it's not only the asking price of this species. If it can be produced in large quantities, it could satisfy world demand on a global level.

What do you think about the polemic of tuna farming?

One would have to study the polemic from the differing points of view. My opinion is really that what is happening to the sea is similar to what is happening to the earth. It is like the fight that happened between the sheep producer and the rancher. That is to say, it is similar to what happened with the fight between hunters and ranchers. The fishermen think that their hunting ground - that was free for them - their hunting territory, is being stolen from them. The farmers are looking for an area where they can expand.

In the future, aquaculture will have no limit, and in the future fishing will be specialized to a few concrete species. Almost all the species on the market will be farmed. The governments of different countries are sensitive enough to the problem of the environment and will closely follow it. We will have to watch this in order to define the environment's capacity to produce and limit the production to this capacity. These issues exist with any farmed species. In the case of tuna, it is thought that this fish is more polluting. I think that in the future the truth will show that it is like any other species.

Can you comment on the necessity of using antibiotics and chemical products?

Currently I don't know of any antibiotics or chemical products in tuna production. It is possible that in the future, if this production continues to grow or if we begin to work with smaller fish, or for a longer period of time. Currently they are farmed in a period of five to six months. If it reaches farming for one or two years it may be necessary to use some treatment to avoid outbreak of illness. For now, all chemicals or antibiotic use is well regulated by the government of Spain and the European Union. The use of antibiotics is very limited and tuna will be confined to the same standards that exist for other farm species.

Again, do you think tuna aquaculture can help alleviate excessive fishing in Mediterranean and North Atlantic?

Excessive Fishing. Well, currently tuna aquaculture doesn't affect the situation positively or negatively. Because the fish that are raised are regulated by the ICAAT, and they are not fished beyond what is permitted. In the future, when the aquaculture consists of farming from young fish to commercial size fish, it is probable that aquaculture will reduce, in some form, the pressure of fishing on the wild species in the open sea.

I will also explain about the things related to the environment. Considering that tuna is a species that is sensitive to the quality of the environment, and faced with the need to maintain farming for years, businesses themselves are aware of the need to maintain the environment in the best of conditions. Furthermore, they promote research that leads to the farming and caring of tuna from birth, from egg to small fish. For this reason all these businesses are collaborating very closely with the scientific community. To complete this reproductive investigation precisely, this installation here, this cage is where they will complete this research.

Anything else that you think might be helpful?

More than 90 percent of tuna is destined for the Japanese market. Currently large fish are farmed which are valued by Japan. In the future the market will expand to other countries. And what is more, it will begin to accept smaller size fish. Currently these smaller fish are not in market in those countries. In the future this smaller size fish will be accepted. The development of tuna farms in the Mediterranean is growing considerably.

Currently there are farms in Malta, Croatia, Portugal, and possibilities in France and Greece. Also, they might install in countries in the north of Africa. At a global scale, Australia, Mexico, Japan and inclusively, it is said in South Africa. Many countries are interested and it's probable that farming will expand considerably. In Spain's case, many businesses have been created in the last three years. Tuna farming has surpassed the farming of other traditional marine species in very few years.