Like a doting father, Alejandro Buentello eagerly shows off the petite 44-day old bluefin tuna swimming and darting in a tidy row of see-through tanks. Getting the first bluefin tuna hatchery in North America up and running has been no small task, and Buentello still has a ways to go before his company, Ichthus Unlimited, reaches its goal of supplying hatchery-raised bluefin tuna for tuna ranchers south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The illuminated tanks are lined up near the wall of the 6,500-square foot San Diego facility. They’re tucked behind a large tarp used to cordon the fish off from the rest of the building in an effort to create an area of calm – an improvised tuna Zen garden. At only 9 cm, the 20 or so Atlantic bluefin tuna inside each tank are sensitive to loud noises, which can cause them to startle and careen into the walls of the Japanese-designed systems.

Mariana Michelato Kawakami, Ichthus Unlimited’s project manager, gently taps a vial of tiny-sized pellets of feed into each tank, watching as the months-old tuna snap them up.

Bringing bluefin tuna aquaculture to a city once deemed “The Tuna Capital of the World” may seem a risky bet in a time where the pandemic has shuttered restaurants around the globe; as NOAA Fisheries pleads with tuna fishermen to secure buyers before fishing for the prized fish over concerns of sagging sales; and emerging cell-based seafood companies like San Diego-based BlueNalu or Bay area Finless Foods have set their sights on growing the premium product in labs. But Buentello insists the future looks bright for bluefin tuna aquaculture, emphasizing that Ichthus Unlimited is first and foremost a feed company.