Posting in Education
Umami Sustainable Seafood has a solution for the sushi fish, but its CEO says the U.S. may not be ready for it yet.
Although many argue that bluefin tuna should be protected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Endangered Species Act, Umami Sustainable Seafood CEO Oli Steindorsson said for much of the species, there’s just a lack of management.
Umami, a holding company of tuna farms in Mexico and Croatia (where there are also sardine farms for tuna feed), has changed the business model for raising tuna and sees this as one solution to population growth and global food shortages. Japan is Umami’s largest market, and Steindorsson said he plans to expand into American and European markets. We spoke on Friday.
You’re from Iceland. How is the approach to sustainable seafood different there than it is in the U.S.?
It's really important for the income of the whole nation. When I was a kid, more than 60 percent of total national export income was related to fishing. In 1984, Iceland was one of the first countries to implement quota systems for limiting the total allowable catch.
So Iceland started much earlier working toward sustainability. It looks to me like the U.S. has been doing a lot of good things lately, but there is a lot more that could be done.
There are, for example, more jobs in nuclear energy in the U.S. than there are jobs in the fishing industry. In Iceland, the focus is so intense on sustainability and resource management because the people there very much want to leave something behind for the next generation.
Umami Sustainable Seafood owns one company in Croatia and one in Mexico. Both are running tuna operations, with a total of about 500 employees. We catch small tuna, put it in our farms for up to three-and-a-half years and then harvest them.
How does the tuna grow differently on the farm?
If we keep it for up to three-and-a-half years we gain about 10 times the weight. For example, if we put a 10-kilo tuna in the farm, it would be a 100-kilo fish in three-and-a-half years. It would take many more years to reach that weight in the wild.
In addition, we’re protecting them from predators. Fish spend 80 percent of their life searching for or eating feed. We’re providing food for them, keeping them in a clean environment. For every kilo we feed the fish, they would need three to five kilos in the wild because they are moving so much more. Mother Nature will not give them fish to eat every day. Sometimes these fish will swim for days, if not weeks, without eating anything.
I’ve been in this business my whole lifetime--my father was a fisherman. Aquaculture is the only way to meet the growing population of the world.
My opinion is that we are a bit too early in the U.S. market with this kind of concept. But I’m convinced that it’s becoming a more important topic to people. The U.S. is far behind other countries in the aquaculture arena.
Why is the U.S. so far behind?
It’s a good question, and it’s difficult for me to understand. It seems the system here has not gained momentum. On the coast of California there are areas that are great for fish farming, but it’s not possible to get farming licenses. That’s the reason we’re farming in Mexico. I think the one of the problems is that people want to be able to get fish from the sea instead of seeing fish in cages. Sport fishermen see cages and it annoys them.
We can talk about eating in an environmentally friendly and sustainable, way, but it’s not just today and tomorrow. We need to think long-term as well. Aquaculture helps address many of the problems nations will be facing, including lack of protein. We are trying to educate people about how it’s done in other countries.
The biggest problem bluefin tuna has is that it has more buyers than available sellers. We’re working on developing closed full-lifecycle tuna. That would get them to spawn in captivity—just like in the salmon industry.
What’s involved in developing that kind of system?
It takes years to develop the technology. And the difference between tuna and salmon is that when salmon is ready to spawn, it’s six to12 pounds, easy to handle. With tuna, it’s more than 100 pounds. So it’s much more difficult to develop a full-life cycle with tuna. We know it’s possible, but it will take some time.
Nobody is doing it in a big scale, but there are a few universities in Japan that have been able to do this with very small quantities.
Jul 24, 2011
They catch immature tuna, before they are old enough to breed, and kill them before the breed. Eventually their cycle will collapse when the current wild breeding stock gets old and dies with greatly reduced in size generations behind it because of his fishing. More eco conscious companies in Italy and Australia are already trying to figure out how to breed brood stock in tanks to harvest eggs from and raise the young tuna in hatcheries before moving them into the open ocean pens. This business model would allow the wild stocks to go un harvested and rebuild. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=amANLM42LmeY
I just listened to a documentery last week on the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corperation) about how Salmon farming has desroyed the spawning areas in B.C. and desemated the Salmon population. It has also destroyed many fishing communties on the west coast. They also found that in Canada it's technically illegal as well. My personal opinion on the matter of Tuna and Salmon is that we shouldn't be eating endangered species period. There's Plenty o' Fish in the Sea as they say.
Tuna and salmon are very different but they are both predators. Farming them is rather like farming lions and tigers for food. Farming Atlantic Salmon has had 2 main detrimental effects: the full-cycle breeding has depleted their gene pool which has resulted in increased susceptibility to disease (both bacterial and viral) and is remedied by add hormones and medications that add get into wild fish; it takes 3.5 kilos of fish meal and fish oil to produce 1 kilo of salmon and this is putting heavy pressure on other fish--anchovies, herring, mackerel, menhaden, sardines, and others. Another bad thing is that 10 - 20% of the feed and medication are discharged into the sea, contaminating adjacent sea water and the sea bed below the pens. The feed contains a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus and causes enormous algae growth which depletes oxygen--dead zones like the Gulf of Mexico gets from the farm runoff draining into the Mississippi ( www.puresalmon.org ). Most of the fish meal and oil come from Peru, by the way, which is why the problem is not so obvious up here in North America.
Foreign bluefin ranches use U.S.-caught sardines to fatten juvenile tuna captured from wild stocks. This feeds the global craving for a severely endangered fish and deprives eaters of healthy, affordable sardines. "As recently as five years ago, local sardines were available for three summer months. The season slated to start next month may be over within a week." http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/voracious/2011/06/bluefin_ranching_shrinks_local.php In addition, depleting ecologically important forage fish, like sardines, takes this food away from fish, seals, whales, seabirds and other native predators.
A stock assessment conducted in October 2010 calculated the Mediterranean stock of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna at approximately 175,000 metric tons, a significant improvement over a 2007 estimate of 78,000 metric tons. Whether it be Umami work or management... number are going up and that is a good sign.
Bluefin tuna are not sexually mature to breed until they are at least 10 years old. These people are capturing immature fish that have never bred and caging them until they hit breeding age and then killing them. How is that sustainable? A quick way to help fish stocks is to raise the size limits so the fish have a few years to breed before being taken for us. After a few down years the flounder caught off the east coast of the US have rebounded since size limits were raised back in the early 1990s.
Capture for farms is one of the main reasons international bluefin tuna management has failed in recent years. From that same stock assessment: "since the late 1990s size samples cannot be obtained from Mediterranean purse seiners due to farming." Without size data, scientists can't accurately estimate how many bluefin tuna are left. Industrial purse seines (huge nets scooping schools of fish) catching bluefin tuna for cages have left fewer fish for traditional fishing methods, such as the trap fishery, which has fished bluefin tuna for centuries. In addition to wiping out bluefin tuna, farms are wiping out fishing cultures.
The tuna reaches sexual maturity when it reaches a certain size. In the wild, it takes 10 years for them to reach that size. In captivity, being well fed, the time would be shorter.
The conditions in the holding pens are not conducive to breeding. There are scientists working with penned bluefin off the coast of Italy who are testing the use of steroids and segregated breeding pens to promote breeding. The eventual hope is to raise bluefin from fry to market and remove the need to net juvenile fish in the wild. The penned growth period is strictly for the added weight to fatten the fish before they go to market. The fish never breed so the wild population gets older with each generation netted.