The Dark Side of Tuna Farming

Tuna excrement, red tides, algal blooms, and hydrogen sulfide are not the first things that come to mind when planning a surfing vacation to Costa Rica. But the country’s recent approval of a tuna farm project could contaminate coastal waters and dismantle one of the areas best preserved surfing destinations.

The coastal dirt road that runs south through Costa Rica dead-ends in a tangle of rainforest foliage, just shy of the Panamanian border. It is a natural barrier that has kept the exploits of modern culture from encroaching into the natural scenery beyond. However, plans for the construction of a massive aquaculture initiative threaten to compromise the line drawn between what humans perceive as progress, and paradise.

The project would consist of 80 circular tuna cages, each 50 meters in diameter

The project would consist of 80 circular tuna cages, each 50 meters in diameter (photo: Greenpeace)

The Golfo Dulce is one of only 5 tropical fjords worldwide, making it shallow at its mouth and deep at the interior. The result is an area of water with a reduced capacity to circulate and flush out any particles trapped inside. Because of its geography, sediment and other residue that flows into the gulf disperses and sinks where it remains and accumulates.

Governmental approval for a tuna farm project at the mouth of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce – located along the country’s remote southern Pacific coast – threatens the area’s water quality, local economic resources, and natural stocks of tropical Pacific tuna. Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. (GAGSA), the Venezuelan company responsible for the project, plans to capture juvenile Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) in nets at sea and drag them back to the coast where they will be placed in cages, fattened, and then sold to Japanese sushi markets. GAGSA selected the site along the Golfo Dulce’s mouth specifically because of the area’s swift-running surface and deepwater currents.

"No Tuna Farms" campaing logo

"No Tuna Farms" campaign logo (Courtesy of ARCAE)

In its environmental impact assessment study, the company admits that contamination resulting from massive amounts of tuna in captivity is a constant concern and that the local currents will bring a consistent flow of clean water essential to the captive tunas’ survival. However, concerns that the area’s currents will sweep the massive quantities of fish excrement and food waste produced by the incarcerated tuna into the gulf and along beachfront communities, has sparked a firestorm of controversy. Local communities and environmental groups are now wondering how a country steeped in ecological consciousness could grant the project’s environmental viability prior to researching its possible effects. –Andy Bystrom writing for Beyond Blue Magazine

To lean how you can get involved in the “No Tuna Farms” camapign, contact Andy Bystrom at

One Response to “The Dark Side of Tuna Farming”
  1. Edward Wright says:

    Dear Andy,
    Your Costa Rican efforts have borne fruit. Congratulations!
    As you may be aware there is a similiar problem at Kangaroo Island, South Australia, wit a Swim with Tuna tourism project is under scrutiny.
    My interest is the ill effects both on the “clean and green” status of the island, and my daughter’s property which stands only 900 metres from the suggested complex, in an otherwise pristine coastal setting. Excrement pollution being but one of the several risks involved.
    I wonder if you have any scientificly proven data on the actual excrement production of tune – in this case the Southern Blue Fin species? It has been quoted to me that one tuna produces more poo than a human; a figure that seems high to me. Specifically the quote was that 65 tuna create more than 160 humans. The mind boggles!
    I would appreciate your comment, especially any scientific references, please.
    My email address:
    With kind regards
    Edward Wright

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