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Japan's Know-How Pays Off

Takuya Yamaguchi, NHK WORLD

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed the Pacific bluefin tuna on its red list. That means the fish is at high risk of extinction. But bluefin is not the only tuna to be ringing alarm bells. Researchers in Panama are trying to save yellowfin stocks as well.

Panama is a logistics hub connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Yellowfin tuna is the most widely caught species of tuna. It is especially popular as a canned food, and is also sold fresh to consumers. About 45-thousand tons caught off Panama is exported to Europe and the US each year.

But yellowfin numbers have been declining. Conservationists blame overfishing and climate change.

To slow the depletion, Panama's government 3 years ago began a tuna farming project in the village of Pedashi, with help from Japan.

Professor Yoshifumi Sawada of Kinki University's Fisheries Laboratory heads the operation. The lab is noted for its 2002 achievement of being the first in the world to successfully grow bluefin tuna from eggs. Sawada says that of all nations, Japan has a special obligation toward tuna conservation, since it's the world's biggest consumer.

But the project ran into problems.

Panama lacked resources - particularly scientific apparatus. So the team brought in equipment from Japan.

A bigger problem turned out to be how the fish must be raised. The bluefin farming method used in Japan was only partially successful for yellowfin.

Ecosystems for the two species differ. The researchers had to experiment to find the right mix of feed and the proper method for feeding.

With these setbacks, it was not until this year that the project took off.

In November, 50 days after they were artificially hatched, the yellowfin fry reached about 6 centimeters in length. The breeders held a briefing session for local media.

Researchers transferred the fry to a large tank for the first time. The fish will be raised there before being moved into a pen in the sea.

Sawada is optimistic. He says the team is 60 to 70 percent toward its goal of complete artificial cultivation. The project's success may benefit not just Japan and Panama, but the world's food supply.

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