The bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) fishing industry in the U.S. employs close to 2000 people and generates over $230 million in gross economic impact. The bulk of this economic impact affects the coastal areas of New England, primarily Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Over the past twenty years, wild bluefin tuna stocks have declined significantly in the North Atlantic and the commercial fishery in the northeastern U.S. alone has decreased by more than 90%. Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacores) also is under significant fishing pressure and scientists are concerned that wild stocks will likely suffer a similar fate in the near future.
Despite the state of tuna stocks and the related fishery, consumer demand for tuna remains extremely high in Asia, Europe and the U.S. highlighting an immediate and pressing need for a more sustainable approach to meeting this global demand. International attempts to legislate effective regulation to rebuild stocks have been met with little enthusiasm and limited or no compliance/adherence by fishing nations in Asia and the EU.
The Greenfins Aquaculture Tuna Research Center of Excellence (GATCE) provides investigators at the University of Rhode Island (URI) with a unique opportunity to develop a major research program focused on basic and applied research of yellowfin and bluefin tuna, both high value species commercially fished in the state and region. This facility enables investigators, nationally and internationally, to conduct research on scombrids throughout the life cycle. Intensive research of an array of topics throughout the lifecycle is essential for effective management of these dwindling stocks and to provide the groundwork for sustainable aquaculture of these species.
Two potential approaches to reversing the decline in scombrids are more efficacious management and aquaculture for production and potential stock enhancement. For both of these, additional information on tuna physiology and biology is required to develop the capacity to maintain and propagate tuna, i.e., aquaculture.
Progress has been made with regards to tuna aquaculture over the past 20 years, with significant advancements over the past 3-5 years. This progress has demonstrated that tuna can be cultivated successfully. Japan’s Kinki University and the Instituto Espanol de Oceanografia (IEO) in Spain have led the way for bluefin tuna, and the Inter-American-Tropical-Tuna-Commission (IATTC) in Panama for yellowfin tuna. Other researchers have focused on narrower aspects of the tuna life cycle, yet offer valuable insight as well.
The objective of the GATCE is to provide a North Atlantic U.S. based platform for collaboration with other researchers and institutions nationally and globally and to consolidate these capabilities, systems and methodologies to develop the capability and capacity for spawning, culturing and studying tuna utilizing URI as a catalyst. The areas of specific interest for the GATCE are:
Focus research & development initiatives on improving various systems and methodologies for sustainable breeding, genetics, culture and feed development.
Implement a multi-disciplinary approach to address areas of inefficiencies (science and business).
Leverage the University’s resources and talent pool to assist in operation of facilities.
The Principal Investigator of the GATCE Research Program is Dr. Terry Bradley. Dr. Bradley has been a professor at the University of Rhode Island for over 20 years and has focused his research on the physiology, biology and aquaculture of marine and freshwater species of finfish.
Currently, Dr. Bradley supervises 5 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students and teaches an array of courses including Fish Physiology, Finfish Aquaculture, Introduction to Aquaculture, Advanced Aquaculture Systems and Graduate Seminar. The tuna and pelagic species research underway is presently supported by 3 graduate students and 2 undergraduate students all enrolled in the Dept. of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science.
URI recently established a public-private partnership with a local company, Greenfins, that is focused on developing and fine tuning the husbandry methods for the culture of tuna and other pelagic species from egg to adult.