Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fish Farming in Baja - A Solution to NOM-029?

Provide mouth-watering fresh, fish flesh for sushi lovers abroad and in the U.S., and profit-making ventures for commercial and local Baja business interests, while perserving the sanctity of the Sea of Cortez at the same time? Sounds almost too good to be true!

But it's not. Fish farming is a viable - and maybe the only - alternative to destructive fishing practices that are decimating many species of fish that call the Sea of Cortez home. Tuna farming in Baja does currently exist, but the goal by environmental orgranizations and scientists is to push for sustainable, ecologically-safe fish farms.

According to the 2005 article, Sustainability Assessment of Capture-Based Tuna Aquaculture in Mexico, written by the MSATAM Team (Marine Science Assessment of Tuna Aquaculture in Mexico), "... tuna farming in large nearshore net pens has expanded rapidly along the Baja Pacific coast north and south of the Tijuana-Ensenada Corridor. Mexican tuna are now estimated to comprise 10% of global tuna production (35,000 tons)."

The article also states, "Tuna ranching/farming is one of the fastest growing forms of aquaculture in the world today."

Farmed tuna - that use wild-caught fish (primarily Pacific Bluefin Tuna) that are kept in pens and fed small fish such as sardines - are sought-after for sushi due to the higher oil content of the fish. High-quality seems to fetch a high price. According to the article above, "Farm gate prices for Mexican farmed tuna are currently reported to be $12,000/ton.".

This article, Say Hola to Tuna From Mexico! describes the fish farming process in detail. The fish farms in Mexico should be more accurately called 'ranches' or 'capture-based tuna farming' because wild tuna are used for both stock and feeds. It states, "A true 'farm' would be one in which fish are raised from egg to adult stages in captivity...".

Tuna farms that use wild stock can devastate the habitat they come from. In the U.S., capture fisheries have decimated tuna stock in the Atlantic. Researchers and environmental organizations are trying to help prevent that from happening in the Pacific as well.

(From the article) Barry A. Costa-Pierce, a Professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island, states, "It is urgent that we develop an internationally credible scientific basis for sustainable tuna farming that could decrease pressure on tuna stocks, while also being environmentally and socially sustainable."

These efforts would also provide a viable solution to NOM-029, by giving commercial (and local) fishermen an alternative to over-fishing the Sea of Cortez. Fish farms could provide a means for profit-making and meet product demand for Baja fish coming from Japan (the majority of exports), the U.S. and elsewhere.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

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