CELS BIG THINKER – Professor Terry Bradley

“Everyone wants tuna,” says Dr. Terry Bradley, Professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture Science at URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS). “Where’s all that tuna going to come from?”

TerryWith wild tuna numbers in decline due to global overfishing, Bradley hopes to develop the first commercial-scale aquaculture of yellowfin tuna. According to Bradley, today’s tuna stocks are more depleted than scientists anticipated. He thinks aquaculture can be the solution to meet the increasing demand for this high value fish.

To solve the tuna supply and demand problem, Bradley teamed up with CELS alum and entrepreneur Peter Mottur who created Greenfins, a company focused on production of tuna. Greenfins and URI developed a public-private partnership designed to launch a  Tuna Research Center of Excellence on the URI campus. The center’s goal is to determine the technology, techniques, and protocols to successfully raise tuna in captivity while minimizing aquaculture’s impacts on the marine ecosystem.

With Greenfins, Bradley dreams of developing a highly productive method of raising yellowfin tuna in captivity to offset, or perhaps eliminate, the need for wild-caught tuna. While satisfying the world’s tastebuds, Bradley’s vision is to foster sustainable production methods and ultimately enhance wild tuna stocks so they may recover from overfishing. The blueprint for farm-raising yellowfin tuna that Bradley and Greenfins hope to develop could subsequently be used by others across the globe.

“Eventually, we’ll be able to go to someone looking to start a tuna hatchery and tell them exactly what to do, how to design the facility, and how to raise the fish,” explains Bradley. Bradley and his team will work hard to collect eggs, clean the tanks, maintain the water quality systems, rear the larvae, and raise the live feed for the young tuna. “It’s really intense and laborious,” notes Bradley.

Slated to open this summer, Greenfins is erecting a 4,200 square foot facility solely dedicated to tuna research on URI’s Bay Campus. The building will hold a 40-foot diameter tank and more than 100,000 gallons of seawater. Bradley will fill the research facility with reproductively mature yellowfin tuna, called “broodstock,” to study the early stages of tuna reproduction. This state-of-the-art facility recirculates ninety nine percent of the water it uses, allowing for minimal impact on the surrounding marine ecosystem.

bradley“We are putting water back into the source as-clean-as if not cleaner than it came out,” explains Bradley of the seawater that circulates into the tank.

Bradley, who has been conducting fisheries research at CELS since 1984, notes that “CELS has always been very supportive” of his research and his drive to bring state-of-the-art facilities to URI. Aquaculture facilities are expensive and take time to build, but Bradley has had great success in obtaining grants and finding supportive partners. He cites the Luther Blount Aquaculture Research Lab on URI’s Bay Campus, a heavily utilized seawater facility for shellfish and finfish, funded in-part by private investments, as another successful aquaculture partnership.

“It’s all about getting the facilities in place and getting people to collaborate,” says Bradley.

He credits his success to the fact that over the years he tried to focus his research on species that people enjoy consuming. “Agricultural species are the species that are of interest to people and funders,” Bradley remarks, adding that he prefers to work with species that have a “direct application to industry.”

Bradley looks forward to deciphering yellowfin tuna’s particular needs for commercialization. Even after decades of fisheries research his love of fish shines through.

“Fish really are charismatic when you get up close and personal with them,” Bradley concludes, “I really do love fish.”