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Let them eat bigeye sashimi

THE heavy fishing of wild tuna to meet the growing demand for succulent raw fish is rapidly shrinking the global supply.

Now a Hawaii company wants to build the world's first commercial bigeye tuna farm so the masses may savor sashimi without further reducing tuna populations.

"All indications are we're on a rapid race to deplete the ocean of our food resources," said Bill Spencer, chief executive of Hawaii Oceanic Technology Inc. "It's sort of obvious - well, Jeez we've got to do something about this."

Hawaii Oceanic aims to build a 12-pen farm just under 5 kilometers off the Big Island in two years. The farm would produce 6,000 tons of bigeye a year when fully operational. In 2007, fishermen caught 224,921 tons of wild bigeye in the Pacific.

Bigeye is the second most coveted tuna after bluefin. But bluefin has been so heavily hunted for its soft, buttery meat that the species' population in the Atlantic and Mediterranean has plummeted more than 80 percent in 30 years.

Now, bigeye is becoming the favorite catch, said Mark Stevens, a senior program officer at the World Wide Fund for Nature. In the Eastern Pacific, humans are capturing bigeye faster than the species can reproduce. The situation is almost as bad in the Western Pacific, he said.

Aquaculture has great appeal amid overfishing, but environmentalists and scientists say fish farms can pollute the ocean, hurt fish lower on the food chain and lead to problems when farm-raised fish escape into the wild.

At some farms, tightly packed fish cages have become breeding grounds for disease. Fish waste, uneaten feed and antibiotics have collected under pens, suffocating marine life on the sea floor.

Spencer says his farm will have large pens in waters 400 meters deep where strong currents will sweep away waste.

Peter Bridson, aquaculture manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, is concerned about how much fish Hawaii Oceanic would need to feed its bigeye. Maintaining a tuna farm may add to the pressures on wild stocks of other fish.

"You kind of have to come back to the whole debate on whether these fish are the right thing for us humans to be eating," he said. "There are lots of other things which have a lower impact in terms of how they are farmed."


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