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How science can save our seas, and more

Bluefin tuna is so highly prized that it is being driven to extinction from the high seas due to intensive and often illegal fishing.

 
PRLog - Dec. 20, 2011 - BIRKIRKARA, Malta -- A European research project has found a way of breeding tuna in floating cages, potentially saving the coveted fish.

The bluefin tuna is a truly majestic fish: known as the tiger of the sea, it can grow to more than half a tonne, reach speeds of up to 70km/hour, and migrate over thousands of kilometres. But for many people, it is the fish’s rich, creamy red flesh that makes it so exceptional: in June, a 342kg bluefin tuna fetched a record 32.49 million yen (or €295,000) at a Tsukiji market auction in Tokyo. Demand for the lucrative fish is driving it to extinction: despite global initiatives to limit the hunting, bluefin tuna populations have fallen an estimated 80% since 1970.

How can we save the bluefin? No doubt that efficient fisheries management and compliance with the rules will be essential for ensuring the conservation of this species. Aquaculture might be also part of the solution, however farming these fish, whose natural habitat is the rolling high seas, has defied the efforts of the most dedicated breeders over the years. Now, however, a European initiative has announced a breakthrough. A project called SELFDOTT (Self-sustained Aquaculture and Domestication of Bluefin Tuna) funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) has reported the first success in breeding Atlantic bluefin tuna in floating cages without the use of hormones.

After four years of research involving 13 institutes across Europe, the scientists obtained a large numbers of viable eggs from bluefin tuna in captivity. Reared in captivity by several European laboratories involved in the project, including the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) – which is coordinating SELFDOTT – the fish grew to over 1kg in just over three months.

Although SELFDOTT is not the first project funded by the European Commission focusing at closing the biological cycle of this fish it seems that more time and effort will be required to remove the remaining bottlenecks: the fish takes a decade or more to mature and the larval rearing and feeding are particularly challenging. Sustainability aspects will also have to be addressed. But the scientists involved in SELFDOTT hope to complete the life cycle of tuna in captivity in the next four or five years. If it succeeds, it could contribute in relieving partially the immense pressure on the endangered wild stocks.

SELFDOTT is just one of many research projects supported by the EU, not just through grants, but also by building the European Research Area (ERA) which supports researchers, research institutions and businesses to increasingly circulate, compete and co-operate across borders with the aim to give them access to a Europe-wide open space for knowledge and technologies in which transnational synergies and complementarities are fully exploited.

SELFDOTT was one of the projects invited to exhibit at the EU’s first ever Innovation convention on December 5-6 in Brussels. The event gathered researchers, entrepreneurs and policy-makers to debate how best to foster innovation.

Events like the European Innovation Convention and research projects like SELFDOTT illustrate how Europe aims to tackle world challenges. Europe’s joint efforts have given the plight of the bluefin tuna hope for the future.

The project website can be found at http://sites.google.com/site/selfdottpublic/

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