Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Wild, Farmed, or Neither?

Thunnus thynnus, or the northern (Atlantic) bluefin tuna
Thunnus thynnus, or the northern (Atlantic) bluefin tuna

The bluefin tuna is one of the world’s most endangered fish.  Weighing up to 1000 pounds, the fish are majestic, sport incredible torpedo shaped bodies, and socialize in enormous schools–which also makes them vulnerable to large-scale fishing operations.

The evidence suggests that bluefin stocks around the globe have fallen sharply the past 40 years.  Tuna of any species is prized by restauranteurs and commercial fishing companies–so much so in fact that environmental groups have called for a total ban on bluefin tuna fishing so that their stocks can recover.  Just one female bluefin tuna can produce 20 to 30 million eggs at her peak maturity.

So to eat or not eat bluefin tuna?  As with any fish, consumers should consider deferring to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide:  a quick search suggests that shoppers avoid either farmed or wild-caught bluefin tuna.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), however, recently refused to grant the Atlantic bluefin tuna “endangered” status. 

Politics, not science, are behind that decision, as several senators have made it clear through their actions that they do not want to face unhappy fisherman with another election year on the horizon.  Forget semantics and read what NOAA has to say–it should give you pause no matter what a government-imposed status may infer.

So what are the choices?  Aquaculture is one option, but the long term efficacy and sustainability of farming tuna are still unknown.  Fish farming may have a role in the decline of overfished species in Australia, but the record of salmon and tilapia farms around the world score dubious results.  Clean Seas, an Australian fish farming company, believes it is a couple years away from  finding commercial success with farming bluefin tuna.  Many advocates of sustainable fishing cry foul at companies taking fish out of the wild and have them breed in fish farms.  One argument is that juvenile tuna should be given the chance to mature in the wild–but currently no commercial method for breeding Atlantic bluefin tuna exists.

When it comes to the Atlantic bluefin tuna, one company, Umami Sustainable Seafood, believes it has a solution.  The San Diego-based company argues that its cultivation of the Atlantic bluefin is a more sustainable option for sustainable fishing than what is occurring out in the wild, especially when accounting for the overfishing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

Whatever your take is, fish farming may well be the way of the future.  Purists and environmentalists may despise the idea, but if overfishing is not curtailed, farmed fish may be the way of the future.  And if aquaculture techniques for breeding bluefin tuna can be perfected by companies like Clean Seas–and then successfully applied to the Atlantic bluefin–therein lies an argument that we may be giving the Atlantic bluefin tuna more of a chance.

Like many sustainability choices, there is no clear answer.  The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch is the most respected arbiter of what seafood to eat and avoid.  Regardless, the savvy investor may want to purchase some Umami Sustainable Seafood stock.  One trend is clear–with the demand for bluefin tuna hardly abating, this will be a stock to add to your portfolio.

Leon Kaye is the Editor of and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.


Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He is currently Executive Editor of 3p, and is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). He's traveled worldwide and has lived in Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

3 responses

  1. It seems a risky investment when the species is on the brink of extinction. Rearing Atlantic bluefin tuna in captivity is one of the primary causes of their decline, as fishermen catch wild stock and put them in cages to sell at high prices (if bluefin tuna go extinct, these businesses will too). Thus, consumers should avoid all bluefin tuna:

    Additionally, bluefin tuna protections – whether listed as endangered internationally, under CITES, or in the United States – will restrict sale and trade of bluefin tuna, wild or farmed.

  2. Hi

    As you are probably aware Bluefin Tunny “Tuna” which made Scarborough famous worldwide during 1930’s – 1950’s is set to become comercially extint very soon, possiblty this year, as quotas setr for catching bluefin worldwide are higher numbers than adult fish remaining in the sea. The only way to preseve or replinish stocks is to ban Giant bluefin Tunny fishing alltogether worldwide, to commercially farm and learn to bred them in farms. and to release them back into wild………some of these things are happening….but alas adult stocks are so thin that it may be too late?????????????????/

    I wrote a 400 page book last year of the heyday of Bluefin Tunny off Scarborough and South coast during 1930’s – 1950’s , when the world record was shattered and brought to UK in 1932 by Col. E.T Peel the first president of the British Tunny Club with a 798lb Tunny, beating previous world record holder and famous novelist American Zane Grey’s record by over 40lbs. book goes on to tell story of tunny and further record breaking fish in subsequent years and captors up to present time. The weight and sizes of these fish knock the recent catch off Dorset into oblivion – but show what sizes they can achieve if left alone to mature when they last appeared 70 years ago. Book also tells how perilously close we are to commercial extinction of this fish, particularly the larger sizes of which few now exist if fisherman still try to catch them.

    This book can be found on eBay UK Item number: 290603575521, direct from myself by email, or from the website advertised on the flier, or from Amazon, or from Hardy Tackle Shop Alnwick.

    Please feel free to publish your flier in your paper, or advertise book in your paper, I’ll happily sign book for anyone that buys a copy – This is strictly a limited edition of 250 standard copies at £89 each + £10 postage as a whopping A4 size 2kg book. The leather special edition is sold out – but there still are copies of the standard edition left.

    The book records all Tuna “Tunny” caught in this period and shows hundreds of pics of actual catches, and record fish and captors, and tells the reader what tackle was used – including pics, and how to catch them on rod and line.

    As i said this is a strictly limited edition so if anyone would like a copy pass on these details – but better be quick to ensure you get a copy.

    flier attached – please feel free to circulate!


    Mark Ross


  3. Bluefin tuna actually is currently “ranched.” Other issues with ranching or farming predator fish is the efficiency in raising them – it can take up to 20 lbs of smaller fish to produce one pound of bluefin tuna meat. Also, ranched juveniles are harvested before they reach sexual maturity, they are not reproducing on the ranch. Rather, the ranchers round-up the juveniles from the wild, fatten them up and then harvest them before they have laid eggs. How unsustainable is that?

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