Gines Mendez is the President of Atunes de Mazarron in Murcia, Spain.


The critics say cultivating tuna fish is a waste of resources. They say for example, that for each kilogram of tuna you need 20 kilograms of food, what do you think?

To tell you the truth, it is incomprehensible that they could say such barbarity. One tuna fish eats 20 kilos of natural fish and those 20 kilos of fish are bought from another fisherman. If the tuna farmer did not buy that fish, that fisherman would not sell it. In one way, the tuna farmer is giving value to another product. In this case, it's adding value to an auxiliary industry that would otherwise lose its worth. What I'm saying is that the traditional fishermen need to fish.

But if their catch were not worth anything, where would they go? Would they go back home and anchor the boat and then have more men on strike? If in order to feed each tuna, they need to feed it 20 kilos of small fish, then this is a benefit for all. The way I see it, this is an advantage for the extractive sector, for the fishing industry. The tuna is not being fed something unnatural; it is just natural fish. How is that a waste of resources?

What if as a result you pay 50 cents of an Euro for 1 kilo of bait, and then, you are able to transform those 50 cents of an Euro and multiply them by 10 times. If it is not supposed to add any value, what is one to do? Is it a sin to generate income? Making money and generating income is what the enterprise is after in order to create more jobs, to be able to grow and to be able to advance technologically. The enterprise must make money. It is evident. It seems to me, I don't know, unthinkable to accuse our sector of wasting money and resources because we buy and feed the tuna with a species (bait) that naturally would not be bought for human consumption.

Do you use antibiotics or other chemical products in tuna aquaculture?

We have not seen it, nor have we ever imagined using antibiotics or chemicals products. Evidently, in other types of aquaculture the use of antibiotics is needed. The synthetic vitamins and other chemicals are used because it helps them reach certain quality parameters, that otherwise in the farms they could not reach. We try to give tuna fish its food in the most natural and freshest state possible. That is to say, the more we can feed the tuna fresh fish, the better. But when we cannot feed it fresh fish then approximately 80% of the tuna's feeding is frozen. But frozen from an optimum degree of freshness. The fish, the feed that is used for the tuna, is frozen almost on board of the ship, almost alive. In addition, we also have an influence in the defrosting method of the feed.

We believe the defrosting method can increase the product's subsequent quality. To the extent to which it is defrosted in a short time and in the most natural way, like in the ocean water, it will conserve a lot of vitamins and antioxidants. If it were done differently, maybe it would be necessary to artificially administer vitamins, but we try to conserve the vitamins that are naturally found in the fish that the tuna normally eats.
We are also able to conserve the feed through our defrosting method. We discovered this year that it was taking almost two days to defrost the fish, and in those two days we were losing many minerals, vitamin E, and antioxidants.

The way we are doing it now, we think we can keep those nutrients in the feed, a difference reflected in the quality of the final product. We are not against the use of compound feed as the base of any feeding method. For now, we firmly believe that what we give the tuna fish is enough, but we don't use chemical products or antibiotics. Antibiotics are used in other species to prevent diseases, but the tuna fish we capture are very healthy, they were once free in the ocean. They have lived freely for many years, and we intervene in the last five or six months of their lives. I don't think it has a significant effect. In any case, those fish that are sick will die before they get here, either due to a lack of oxygen, or because of the captivity conditions. Because tuna is very migratory, they are not species that easily acquire illness. In our experience over the last six years we have not found any illnesses.

Could you talk about the density of tuna in a cage?

We have to be very attentive to the ideal density of a cage. That is to say, the tuna are extremely sensitive to a lack of oxygen, which is directly related to the vital living space. The density ratio is vital, it is fundamental. When you go over the recommended density ratio, the tuna stop getting fat, they eat less, more of them die, and the one who suffers is the one who is looking after them, the one who is cultivating them. A fish that has died before its mature age for market consumption is a discarded resource, a wasted resource.

Therefore, to prevent death, we have to try to fatten it, and to make it eat, because everything it eats will be a profit at the end of the cycle. It's work; it is not an easy operation, as you can understand. Ocean operations are very costly and at times very unpredictable. Currents sometimes prevent you from completing your work, as you would like. Another important reason is to maintain the density under three kilos per three cubic meters, which is in the optimum range, optimum for good growth and a good product.

Why has there been so much controversy around tuna farming?

There aren't any logical reasons from what I have heard. Where did these criticisms come from? I believe all of this criticism comes from ignorance, from an ignorance of our activities, an ignorance that is influenced by the immaturity of our industry. Our industry is only a few years old, and in front of anything new human nature is inclined to be judgmental. By nature, humans are very inclined to judge, to give opinions. But when you don't have the facts, or even information to base an opinion on, your opinion can be distorted or wrong. I think our industry is being used as a scapegoat, an excuse to hide other kinds of interests. Since we are few and new in this industry we aren't prepared to launch big publicity campaigns, big image campaigns, or divulge our activities.

Other sectors can take advantage of this lack of understanding. They present us as a secretive group, as if we were mechanizing, or trying to discover or pervert. We believe we are doing something as dignified as any other sector, such as aquaculture. The Neolithic revolution is yet to take place. The fishermen must continue to evolve to aquaculture as he did on land, from hunter to rancher. From a fruit collector, he became a farmer. This step has yet to be taken in fishing. Perhaps that is why they label naturally caught food as healthy and natural. But not all food, not even fish that are caught in a natural way by fishing boats, are as natural as they should be, nor as healthy as they should be, nor is everything that is farmed.

Aquaculture is not as bad as other sectors would like you to believe. Aquaculture is a special opportunity to precisely control many variables that can't be controlled when a species grows in the wild. Today being able to control from birth until slaughter a sea bass or a gilthead is a big advantage compared to nature. Given what humanity eats, with what it consumes, the sea alone cannot provide for us, with the current methods of fishing, because we can't work with regularity or achieve the same quality conditions.

Do you think tuna farming can alleviate over-fishing in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic?

There has been very intense fishing until now. As a matter of fact, it is already started to alleviate wild stocks. Tuna aquaculture is a very substantial shock absorber for extractive fishing because a fisherman receives, as a minimum, seven times more for its catch than 15 years earlier. If the fisherman gets more resources, more value for its product, he will need to fish less. This is unquestionable because the way they fish and the way the crews in the Mediterranean are compensated, the fishermen get a share. After selling the fish, in a tuna boat, the company gets half. The other half covers operating expenses, gas, food, et cetera. What is left is distributed between the crew. This distribution is 90% to 80% of a fisherman salary.

The big tuna season begins the 15th of August. The fishermen keep count of each ton of fish that comes in. When it has reached acceptable levels, they will pressure the captain to go home because they've been away from home for two months. The effect of the compensation and the greater value that is left in the fishing product will cause the fishermen to assume that putting the tuna in cages will lead to reduced fishing for them.
The pressure on fishing will be reduced. It is currently being reduced; it is not that it will be reduced. We know we are making a product that is totally natural, paid for, and desired by the Japanese.