Re­searchers seek bet­ter ways to farm pop­u­lar Pa­cific fish

Cape Breton Post - - Classifieds/lifestyles -

The dark grey fish prized for its but­tery flavour live deep in the ocean, so re­searchers keep their lab cold and dark to sim­u­late ideal con­di­tions for sable­fish lar­vae.

A bi­ol­o­gist shines his dim red head­lamp and uses an ul­tra­sound to scan the belly of an anes­thetized sable­fish about the length of his fore­arm to tell if it’s fe­male and has eggs to col­lect. He gen­tly squeezes out hun­dreds of tiny, translu­cent eggs into a glass beaker.

Af­ter the eggs are fer­til­ized ex­ter­nally, they’ll grow in large in­door tanks and some in float­ing net pens in Wash­ing­ton state’s Puget Sound to be used for re­search.

At this fed­eral marine re­search sta­tion near Seat­tle, sci­en­tists are study­ing sable­fish ge­net­ics and in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways to make it eas­ier and more ef­fi­cient to com­mer­cially grow the fish.

It is part of a larger ef­fort by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion to sup­port marine aqua­cul­ture as a so­lu­tion to feed a grow­ing de­mand world­wide for seafood.

Peo­ple are con­sum­ing more fish than in pre­vi­ous decades, with av­er­age world­wide per capita con­sump­tion hit­ting 43 pounds (20 kilo­grams) a year, ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions. Fish con­sump­tion is ex­pected to grow even more in com­ing years.

NOAA says aqua­cul­ture can re­lieve pres­sure on fish­ing pop­u­la­tions and pro­mote eco­nomic growth.

Fish­er­men along the U.S. West Coast, mostly in Alaska, catch mil­lions of pounds of wild sable­fish each year but no com­mer­cial sable­fish net-pen farm­ing ex­ists in the U.S.

Sable­fish, also known as black cod or but­ter­fish, are long-lived species that is na­tive to the north­east Pa­cific Ocean and highly val­ued in Asia for its ben­e­fi­cial nu­tri­ents and del­i­cate flavour. The fish are grilled, smoked, poached, roasted or served as sushi.

Michael Ru­bino, who di­rects the NOAA aqua­cul­ture pro­gram, noted that prac­tices for farm­ing fish in the U.S. meet very strict en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

But some crit­ics worry largescale farms could harm wild fish stocks and ocean health, and some com­mer­cial fish­er­men worry about po­ten­tial com­pe­ti­tion.

“This would be a big threat for us,” said Robert Alver­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fish­ing Ves­sel Own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, a Seat­tle-based group that rep­re­sents about 95 com­mer­cial fish­er­men in Alaska, Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and Cal­i­for­nia.

In 2015, fish­er­man har­vested about 35 million pounds (16 million kilo­grams) of sable­fish worth $113 million in the United States, all along the U.S. West Coast.

Of that, nearly two-thirds, or about 23 million pounds (10 million kilo­grams), were caught in Alaska, with smaller amounts in Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and Cal­i­for­nia. Nearly half of the sable­fish caught in the United States is ex­ported, with a ma­jor­ity go­ing to Ja­pan.

“Our fear is that science isn’t go­ing to stay in the U.S., and it will be ex­ported to a Third World coun­try where peo­ple work for a few bucks a day,” Alver­son said. “They’ll raise it with low-val­ued labour and use our science to un­der­cut our com­mer­cial fish­ery and coastal com­mu­ni­ties.”

Alaska law pro­hibits fin­fish farm­ing.

Ru­bino and oth­ers say wild har­vests and aqua­cul­ture can com­ple­ment each other, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing months when there are lower catch lim­its for wild sable­fish.

“You al­ways have this yinyang prob­lem be­tween fish­eries and aqua­cul­ture,” Rick Goetz, who leads the marine fish and shell­fish bi­ol­ogy pro­gram at the Manch­ester Re­search Sta­tion, across Puget Sound from Seat­tle. “The big prob­lem is al­lay­ing the fears of peo­ple that you can have both. You can have both of those things work­ing, par­tic­u­larly be­cause this fish is such a high-value prod­uct.”

In re­cent years, NOAA Fish­eries sci­en­tists have worked to re­duce po­ten­tial bar­ri­ers to sable­fish aqua­cul­ture. They have de­vel­oped tech­niques to pro­duce all-fe­male stocks of sable­fish that grow faster and much big­ger than males in about 24 months. Ideal mar­ket size is roughly 5 1/2 pounds (2 1/2 kilo­grams).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.