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URI researchers developing techniques for tuna aquaculture

June 29, 2013

Researchers Peter Mottur and Terry Bradley aim to expand their work on tuna aquaculture. (Photo courtesy URI)

NARRAGANSETT—The University of Rhode Island is working with Green Fins LLC to develop a new industry in Rhode Island raising tuna stocks. The concept is to develop a process by which Rhode Island companies can spawn tuna and raise them for sale.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” said Peter Mottur, director of Greenfins. “Primarily, technology companies working on public safety,” he continued.
Mottur and URI Aquaculture Professor Terry Bradley are working to develop a process where yellow tuna will be spawned in captivity. Those spawned tuna will then be raised to juvenile age, a time at which they will be hardy enough to be shipped. The juvenile fish will then be sold to other aquaculture businesses to be raised for market.
The primary market is now Japan.
“Japan takes 70 percent of the tuna but Europe eats a lot as well. The rest of Asia is developing a taste,” said Bradley.
Currently, the work for the year is just beginning.
“The season is about to begin here. Our goal is to focus on yellow fun tuna because they sexually mature faster,” explained Mottur.
Mottur and Bradley, assisted by several URI undergraduate students and two full time graduate students begin by capturing a small number of wild tuna to use as breeding stock, known as “brood stock.” The brood stock will be used to spawn the tuna crop for this year.
The aquaculture business, or the business of ranching fish, is typically conducted in large open water areas surrounded by nets, not unlike cattle herds on the plains.
Mottur and Bradley’s process is different. The tuna are being raised in tanks in a warehouse at URI’s Bay Campus in Narragansett.
“Raising fish indoors is more costly from an infrastructure point, but we don’t have a lot of the other concerns,” said Mottur. “Fish won’t escape. Predators won’t break into the nets, [and] we don’t have to worry about water quality. The water we use actually gets pumped out cleaner then when it gets pumped in.”
Another reason for the difficulty of managing indoor aquaculture is the lack of legal framework in place.
“There is no regulatory process in place for offshore fisheries,” said Mottur.
Rhode Island’s location in the mid-Atlantic is another cause for the onshore location.
“In Rhode Island, the ocean is too cold in the winter for this,” stated Mottur.
In the United States few groups are even working on the entire process like here in Rhode Island.
“Most research in the United States is narrow in focus because of the funding structure. Tuna are difficult to study because they are fast and eat a lot,” noted Mottur. Most research in America therefore focuses on an aspect of the tuna life cycle.
Only a handful of groups even work with tuna worldwide.
“There are several groups trying to raise blue fin in Japan, Australia, the Mediterranean, and yellow fin in Panama,” said Bradley.
Monterey Bay Aquarium in California does work directly with the process.
“They are the ones that pioneered the capture techniques,” explained Bradley.
The lack of work in the area is what initially peaked Mottur’s interest.
“I started looking around initially just out of interest,” he said.
The interest started six years ago when Mottur started deep-sea fishing, at times for tuna.
“I have a real love and passion for the ocean, diving, sailing, fishing,” said Mottur.
His passion pushed his interest until he finally sought out expert help from the University of Rhode Island.
“Peter came to us with this idea,” said Bradley.
Bradley’s knowledge of fish made him the person for the job.
“I have been working with salmon for 20 years, trout, cod, haddock, tuna,” elaborated Bradley.
Since then the project has moved forward at a steady pace.
“Progress is incremental,” said Mottur.
Currently, the project has established the process for capturing wild stock. Now the project sits in the “brood stock phase” or the phase where the process for breeding the captured wild stock will be perfected. Soon the project hopes to completely develop the process of on-shore tuna raising. Ideally, a cabin industry will develop in Rhode Island. Mottur and Bradley also hope to sell the technology needed for the process to others.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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