Establishing sustainable tuna aquaculture in Rhode Island

Tuna inside the URI tank Tuna inside the URI tank

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Greenfins are taking the first steps in the United States towards breeding yellowfin tuna in a land-based aquaculture facility.

Terry Bradley and Peter Mottur are working on the project which aims to produce fish in captivity and take the pressure off the wild stocks.

Instead of following the lead of countries including Australia and Mexico, which capture wild tuna and raise them to harvest size, Bradely and Mottur are taking the first steps in developing the techniques to raise tuna from egg to harvest size.

Several yellowfin tuna were caught last autumn and moved to a 20,000 gallon tank at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus. The plan is for these tuna to spawn in the URI tank, but it is a challenging undertaking. Once the fish spawn and the eggs hatch, the microscopic larvae must be fed live food raised on site. Then they must be weaned from live food to a dry, formulated feed.

“The early stages of the project are all about research – learning about the early life cycle of these fish and developing the techniques to raise them,” Bradley said. “But we also think there is a lot of commercial potential.”

Bradley and Mottur envision local entrepreneurs using the techniques they develop to produce juvenile tuna that could then be sold to others who want to grow them further.

“It’s a sustainable project that we hope will create green technology jobs here in Rhode Island to leverage the great intellectual capital we have in the state,” said Mottur. “We’ve already developed a partnership between URI and my company [Greenfins], and we hope to take it from the research phase to the commercialisation phase once we demonstrate tuna breeding and larval rearing success.”

Bradley and Mottur believe that construction of a larger tank, which will be built at the URI Bay Campus later this year, will markedly increase the project’s likelihood of success.

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