On a modified lobster boat docked at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay campus, aquaculture professor Terry Bradley is getting ready for a fishing trip to catch some yellowfin tuna.
Bradley grew up on fishing boats, but isn’t looking for a trophy or big score on the Japanese sushi market. Instead he hopes to bring a few more tuna back to URI’s tanks to spawn in a project intended to protect wild fish stocks from growing global demand for seafood.
Bradley is the scientific force behind Greenfins, an academic-commercial partnership designed to solve long-standing aquaculture challenges while creating a lucrative local tuna-nursery business.
“Right now aquaculture represents 50 percent of all seafood, and demand continues to increase, particularly with health-conscious consumers,” Bradley said on a phone call from the docks. “Because the demand for tuna is so strong, we believe it can command a premium price.”
Greenfins was formed a year and a half ago when URI graduate and serial entrepreneur Peter Mottur discovered Bradley’s aquaculture research and approached him with funding to expand it into a commercial enterprise.
The venture settled on yellowfin tuna, which are smaller and more plentiful than the bluefin tuna that fetch the highest sushi prices and are the focus of Japanese farming efforts, but more valuable than the species, such as albacore, usually found in cans.
The company is still likely years away from generating revenue from tuna sales, but Mottur said the potential market and potential positive environmental impacts made it a compelling investment.
“One of the big problems with tuna ranching – usually in the Mediterranean, Australia and Mexico – is they use these giant seine nets to catch tuna and then drag them back to pens, a lot of time before the fish can sexually mature,” Mottur said. “Eventually when you do it at that scale, it takes a toll. The U.S. is good about enforcement, but these other countries aren’t, and it’s a global fishery, so commercial guys here are seeing stocks go down.”