August 2015: Bluefin Tuna at the Kinki University Fisheries Laboratory, Kushimoto, JAPAN

*Articles on the story below are due to appear in Intrafish Media’s Fish Farming International magazine ( and the UK’s The Fish Site ( in October. The Laboratory’s work will be covered in more detail, accompanied by plenty of quotes from Professor Sawada and Professor Kato. A big thank you to both Professors for taking the time to show me around! 

Friday August 21st, 2015

In August 2015, I was honoured to visit the Fisheries Laboratory of Kinki University in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture and see its farming operations for myself.  The Laboratory has become known for its work to address the problem of rapidly declining wild tuna populations and in 2002 became the first in the world to cultivate completely farm-raised Pacific bluefin tuna. 

Cultivate the seas!” It was under this philosophy that the Fisheries Laboratory of Kinki University began. After Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, Koichi Seko, the first president of the university, believed Japan would have no future unless people cultivated the seas and more seafood was produced, so he founded the Laboratory in 1948 by first establishing a seaside research facility in the town of Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture. Bluefin tuna farming began in 1970 with the fishing of small juveniles off the prefecture’s coast, and in 2012, 70,000 – 80,000 young fish were successfully produced.

During my visit I spoke to Professor Yoshifumi Sawada, Director of the Laboratory’s Oshima Experiment Station, and Professor Keitaro Kato, deputy head of the Laboratory’s Shirahama Station, who explained the concept of “full-cycle aquaculture,” in other words “raising artificially hatched larvae to adults, collecting their eggs and hatching them to create subsequent egg-laying generations.” We covered vast areas ranging from circular cages on the surface of the water that are used to grow the tuna, to the pros and cons of fishmeal and alternative diets such as those including plant protein.  We also discussed biosecurity, disease prevention and touched upon collisions, which is apparently just as serious a problem as disease.  The large size of tuna — they can grow up to 350kg — can get the fish into trouble with fast-moving tuna-on-tuna collisions inside large farming pens.  These collisions can sometimes have fatal consequences.

Sawada and Kato also described the many challenges and obstacles, including research into alternative feeds to reduce the amount of fishmeal and make operations more sustainable.  One of their very first challenges was to increase survival rates from harvested eggs to hatchlings, and preventing death among the larvae also requires further research. Despite these however, Sawada is confident that their work will contribute to reducing pressure on natural tuna stocks.  “Thanks to our control over all aspects of the bluefin tuna lifecycle,” he told me, “we can offer a stable supply of tuna without depending on fish stocks in the wild.”

The Laboratory’s work is being funded via a business model in which farmed tuna is sent to restaurants owned by the Laboratory in Tokyo and Osaka.  The profits are then used to fund further research and development. Sawada and Kato’s team is also working on getting its farmed population up, and mapping the entire DNA of tuna through blood samples to isolate the best DNA characters for disease resistance, growth and sex identification.

As global populations of bluefin tuna continue to decline because of worldwide demand, the Laboratory’s work couldn’t be more welcome, but only time will tell whether farmed tuna is the way forward.

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