INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT - Gines Mendez
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.