It seems to be hard to breed tuna in captivity for a myriad of reasons. For instance, research suggests that tuna, such as the bluefin, take a long time to reach sexual maturity (12 years). In addition, it is very hard to get these fish to breed outside of their natural habitat. Life in captivity does not provide the right environmental cues to activate the sexual hormones in tuna such as the bluefin. Furthermore, because it takes such a long time for bluefins to reach sexual maturity, there is a huge financial strain to breed them in captivity.
Tuna naturally spawn in deep, open ocean which is difficult to reproduce in an aquaculture setting. Though many attempts have been made, success has been limited in captive breeding and aquaculture of tuna.
Also, hormones have been used to complete the reproduction cycle of tuna, which has been highly controversial. If aquaculture efforts can be performed without the use of hormones, tuna captive breeding could be a huge asset to the canning and fish selling industry.
Bluefun tuna specifically are difficult to breed for a few reasons. First, they take significantly longer to reach sexual maturity than other fishes, like catfish. For comparison, the tuna can take up to 12 years to reach sexual maturity whereas the catfish only take about three years.
Second, getting the bluefin to breed outside of their natural habitat has proved challenging. Researchers have found that the fish are very picky about where they like to do the deed and the environment in a sea cage or giant tank is not sexy enough for them so they don’t reproduce at the same rates (or at all) as in natural habitats.
Lastly, their large size makes it difficult to keep them in captivity and create a space that is both comfortable for them but also keeps them together in a confined, manageable space. The space is important because researchers want to be able to easily get to them (in order to give drugs or other treatments) but don’t want to spend too much time doing so. The bluefins’ size makes those tasks a challenge.
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