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Japan firm breeds bluefin tuna from eggs

TOKYO, Mar 15 – A Japanese company has started exporting what it calls sustainably grown bluefin tuna, which it says allows sushi lovers to keep eating the species without driving down ocean stocks.

Bluefin tuna is either caught in the open seas or farmed from the baby fish caught in the nets, but marine products company Burimy says it is the first to sell bluefin grown from artificially hatched eggs.

"Our tuna won\’t affect the ecological system so that we can help stop draining marine resources," said Takahiro Hama, a director of the company based in the southern Japanese city of Amakusa.

"We have just begun full shipments to the United States," he said. "We hope to provide our sustainable tuna for Japanese sushi bars and restaurants which are concerned about protests from environmental activists."

Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks have crashed in recent decades due to industrial-scale fishing, mostly for the Japanese market.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is meeting until March 25 in Qatar and is set to vote on whether to declare the commercial trade in bluefin a threat to the survival of the species.

Burimy has teamed up with Japan\’s Kinki University, which has succeeded in hatching eggs, nurturing baby fish and breeding them into fat adults in what the company says is the world\’s first complete cultivation cycle.

Burimy first bought 1,500 artificially hatched baby bluefin tuna from the university\’s A-marine Kindai laboratory in December 2007 and over the next two years grew them into 1.2-metre (four-foot) adults.

Since January, Burimy has shipped 20 fish a week to the United States.

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Small amounts of fully farmed bluefin tuna, dubbed Kindai tuna, have also been sold at Japanese department stores and shops, priced at 2,000 to 4,000 yen (22 to 44 dollars) per kilogram (10 to 20 dollars per pound).

Burimy has set up five tanks measuring 40 by 40 metres that are 20 metres deep and filled with murky water to make the fast predator fish swim more slowly and avoid crashing into each other.

The company expects to ship 7,000 to 10,000 of the fish a year by 2012, targeting annual sales of one billion yen (11 million dollars).

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