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posted in: TRCP Marine

September 16, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

The desire to point the finger without acknowledging our own impact is endemic in the angling community

 

Slinging

 

So…  It looks like there are quite a few people who have their panties in a bunch over my recent column in Fly Fishing in Saltwaters:Deep Diving (is spearfishing the blood-sport we think it is?).  If you are on Facebook, you will see the well over 100 comments on the article which I posted on my page, most of which are from people who appear to be greatly offended, and well… angry. (Please do “friend” me if you’d like to see those comments).   Believe me, I get it.  It’s beyond infuriating to see some knucklehead holding a big, fecund dead and bloody fish, which had likely lived for two decades before this bonehead decided it would be fun to put a spear in it.  But if you could have made it past the knee jerk reaction, and, uhm, read the article, you would have probably seen a different picture.

If you are too busy/lazy to read the article, I’ll summarize it in a couple of paragraphs.  Spear-fishermen in Louisiana have been shooting tarpon (29 in the last 3 years according to the Louisiana Council of Dive Clubs) so that Dr. William Stein (an ardent tarpon angler turned marine biologist) may dissect and analyze the fish with the intent of finding out more about them, and with the end goal of providing relevant information that may ultimately help us protect them.

Unfortunately, a spearfishing club unwisely posted photos of dead tarpon/hero-shots as well as video of the act itself.  Yes, it was offensive, yet pretty much harmless, and in fact beneficial when you consider the scientific use of such fish.  Yet, there was a reverberating reaction as editorials popped up everywhere and internet forums lit up.  In response, there were some who rightly pointed out that recreational release mortality (whether it’s 10% or 4%) simply dwarfs whatever damage such speared fish might cause, even if you were to assume spear-fishermen kill “hundreds” of tarpon a year (which they don’t, simply because, as anyone who has ever fished for them knows, tarpon are big, strong, fast animals).  In other words, it’s really freak’n dangerous.  And, despite whatever preconceived notion folks might have of spear-fishers, they generally don’t like to kill simply for the sake of killing, and you really can’t eat tarpon without having a gag reflex.

None of this apparently mattered to a lot of people who read the piece.  That’s assuming they did read the piece in its entirety (given some of the comments on my Facebook page, I have to believe a lot of people didn’t bother to read the entire article, at least not initially).  Killing a tarpon was wrong in any case, they claimed.  Yet when anyone, including me, pointed out that, well, anglers inadvertently kill a lot more tarpon, and that perhaps we shouldn’t throw stones.…  Well, it got a little ugly.   There were folks who simply denied and continue to deny the well-established fact that release mortality is significant.  And there were people who claimed that they deserve no blame and that the perceived reduction in tarpon over the last two decades was simply due to habitat loss.  The latter may be true; however, natural mortality due to habitat loss, plus fishing mortality, of course equals total mortality, so you really can’t point to habitat loss and say you are not responsible at all.  Because you are.  And, well, individually, there isn’t much we can do about habitat loss, while there are indeed steps we can take to reduce fishing mortality.  I listed such steps in my article, no need to rehash here.

Moving on, there are those folks who surprisingly believe that Dr. Stein is not really using these fish for science at all. They claim his documented research is simply an excuse to allow blood-thirsty divers to shoot tarpon.  Well, this is just silly.  Those divers are entitled to shoot as many tarpon as they want as there are no regulations (gear type, seasons, bag/size limits) in either state or federal waters.  Why on earth would they need to use Dr. Stein’s work as an excuse?!

What was perhaps most disturbing, however, were the deeply personal attacks from both sides, some of which came from supposedly unbiased scientists.  Frightening given that I had always thought that marine biologists were supposed to be objective.  In this case, they certainly weren’t.

The bottom line is this.  Anglers more than likely kill orders of magnitude more tarpon than Louisiana spear-fishers. To deny this is intellectually dishonest, self-serving and scientifically inaccurate.  I don’t like to see dead tarpon either, but given the facts, I’m certainly okay with some being killed via spear for science.  And, of course I like to throw flies at tarpon just as much as anyone else.  And in no way did I or would I suggest we stop.  I made what I thought was a very valid point; that we probably shouldn’t throw stones at the innocents when we might be living in  glass houses, because, in the end, a dead tarpon is a dead tarpon.   I followed up by suggesting some things we should be focusing on rather than those fish killed for science by spear-fishers.

The point of this blog is not, however, to simply rehash that debate.  It is that, unfortunately, this sort of finger-pointing has become endemic in the recreational fishing community and particularly the flyfishing community.  There is often a complete denial that we have any impact, and we frequently act as if we are simply above it all, because we release most, if not all, of what we catch, and we promote conservation in our magazines, etc.  Yet most of us are loath to attend a public hearing, or to otherwise actually do something constructive; instead, we just complain about “those guys”.  I’m not saying that being a conservationist (e.g. releasing “keepers”, carefully handling fish, educating other anglers etc.)  or that promoting conservation isn’t significant.  It is!  But the supposition that it’s “those guys” or even, in this case anyway, “habitat destruction” has become a distraction from doing what’s best for the fishery, which is in most cases is reducing total mortality.   I touched on this during a recent striped bass blog.  Such finger pointing to some extent has taken our community’s eye off the ball, and in several cases has severely reduced anglers’ credibility amongst fishery managers.  I know this to be true, because I’ve sat with such managers and they’ve told me point-blank that this is the case.  And we wonder why we are always being accused of being elitist, snobs, and/or why managers simply don’t listen to us.

Believe me, I’m on your team here, but we have to be real.  We really need to work at thoroughly understanding the issues, provide useful solution-oriented comment, and be willing not to rule ourselves out as part of the problem, because in many fisheries we likely are!  We have to remember that despite the fact that we, as anglers, may be the best stewards of the resource, that resource does not belong to us.  It belongs to the public.  And unfortunately, that includes the guy in Wisconsin who might want a fresh fish fillet without having to drive out here to catch it.

As anglers and conservation advocates, we have to work within the system, making compelling arguments that take all sides into account.  Not simply come out, guns blazing, that these fish are ours, we don’t have an impact, and we’re more economically important or something.  Unfortunately that seems to be the track most recreational opinion leaders want to take.  And it isn’t working.  .

The take home message here is that we can be part of the solution if we, for one, acknowledge that we may be part of the problem and two, educate ourselves on all aspects of the issue at hand, instead of shooting off with knee jerk reactions similar to the one we saw here with the speared tarpon.   In the future, I’ll do my best to educate readers on what the aspects of such issues are.  So stay tuned!

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posted in: TRCP Marine

September 14, 2013

Gulf Coast Snapper- Past to Present

Photo courtesy of Gulfmex.com

Who would have ever thought red snapper could become the next Leatherback turtle, a species pursued to the brink of extinction?  Certainly not my fellow offshore anglers and me, who pursued the red delicacies back in the offshore fishing hey days of the early 1970s.  But if you look at the latest regulatory actions of the National Marine Fisheries Service, you might make an argument to have the species added to the list. I say, “might” because despite NMFS data indicating doom and gloom, they readily admit that data isn’t worth the word documents and paper on which it’s published.

The latest developments in a four-decade saga of mismanagement include for 2014, the possibility of less than the skimpy 9-day, 2 fish per person season Louisiana was offered for 2013 and the withdrawal of the LA Department of Wildlife & Fisheries from the NOAA Fisheries Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP).  This move represents the state fishery management equivalent of seceding from the Union.  Furthermore, what seemed just a few decades ago to be an Orwellian project, there are serious attempts to “breed” red snapper for supplemental release into the Gulf of Mexico.   How did we ever get to this point and maybe the more important question, is it necessary?

Having spent forty years of contributing in a very small way to the red snapper demise, here’s what I’ve seen.  In the early 1970s when I first began offshore fishing, big, beautiful red snapper were easily caught along with 3-4 pound white trout and bull croaker.  We were only limited by how many we wanted to clean.  All three species went into a serious decline from the late 1970s into the 1990s. With few exceptions, handfuls of 12 inch and smaller red snapper became the catch of the day.  Rarely are those big white trout and croakers found at all any more.  That is another story for another day.

Following an overharvest determination and the resulting regulations, red snapper populations in the Gulf rebounded.

But while populations were growing through the 1990s and 2000s, NMFS continued to implement stricter regulations using their suspect data. In more recent times the empirical evidence of many more red snapper in the Gulf than estimated by the feds has pretty much been ignored.  Reports from commercial and recreational anglers and what you would have to regard as very reliable, eyewitness observations from scuba divers who have monitored fish populations at rig and reef habitat first hand for decades have not convinced federal managers that longer seasons with more generous bag limits are warranted.  Conversely, they have shortened the seasons as if red snapper are declining when in fact, clear-thinking, unbridled-by-bureaucrats fishery biologists proclaim there are and have been many more snapper than federal counts have estimated for years.

Earlier this year, Louisiana, frustrated with the incompetency joined other Gulf States by going non-compliant with federal regulations in state-managed waters. The LDWF set up a state waters season offering more days and a larger bag limit.  Additionally, Louisiana began its own accounting method to set the stage and argument for regional management of offshore species.  This obviously posed a threat to the feds.  Their response – at first they said using the new methodology they were pleasantly surprised to “find” excess snapper and would allow an extended fall season in October. But at its latest meeting they reassessed the data and put a hold on that extension until they can further study the data.  So while they are considering if and when a fall snapper season is a possibility and what impact this new data will have on the 2014 season, charter boat operators as well as private fishermen are put on hold.

Would this type of mismanagement happen under more state control under the regional concept? No one can be certain but I’m willing to take the risk, given the track records of fish stocks under management authority of both agencies.   There’s not a single saltwater species Louisiana manages that is considered over or under -fished. Federal managers have demonstrated the exact opposite whether real or perceived.  The result is still the same.

The latest move by LDWF to withdraw from MRIP is huge.  As of January 1, 2014 they will no longer participate in the survey.  What type of retaliation the state can expect is uncertain, but given the direction federal management is headed, is there really anything to lose?

The Thad Cochran Center for Marine Aquaculture at the University of Southern Mississippi is working on developing a supplemental stocking program by raising juvenile snapper in tanks.

Perhaps the combination of these two efforts will be part of making once again catching and keeping a sensible limit of the wonderful red snapper possible.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

September 12, 2013

Let’s Get Together

Recreational Fishing Community needs to find common ground with the Environmental Lobby

 

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

 

This past week I spent some time in DC, common slang for our nation’s capitol and a place I like to avoid when the temperature goes above 85 and Congress is in session. I failed on both accounts. I was there to work with a group of folks from the recreational fishing industry/community to discuss the vision for this user group. What do we think the recreational fishing community/industry should look like in say ten years and how do we get there. It is an interesting process and one that is very much still a work in progress.

One of the groups that came to the meeting to participate in the exchange of information was a number of the environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) community leadership. Wash you mouth out with soap!!! It was soooo intimidating being face-to-face with members of the “great conspiracy.” Okay, I’m just kidding, but there are some in the recreational community that feel we should not be talking to or working with the environmental community. I’ll take the other side and simply say that the recreational community cannot succeed in a realistic future vision without embracing the ENGO community in some fashion.

Let’s take last week’s Blog on the proposed tuna regulations that NOAA Fisheries is asking comment on. Pushing those changes was not done by a single entity, it was a cooperative effort by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) and the Pew Environmental Group. Could the recreational side of the equation have made this happen on their own? Maybe. Could the ENGO’s have done this on their own? Maybe. But they did successfully do it together and that is what counts.

One of the discussion topics at the visioning project was that all of the groups concerned about sustainable fish resources should be working together more often on issues that move all of us toward our visions. It is my feeling that this is going to be important in an era of budget constraints and increasing demands on fishery managers. Does this mean that the recreational community has to agree with everything proposed by the ENGO community? Heck no. The truth is that the recreational community does not always agree 100% with its own proposals.

A number of years ago, I worked with a member of the ENGO community to bring together a coalition of interested parties to look at common ground where we could all work together to an objective accomplished. We did come up areas of mutual agreement, but the effort lost traction as folks went about their own business, not because it was a bad idea. All of these collective efforts take constant attention and effort to push them forward.

So, do I think that we should be working together with the ENGO community where we have common goals? You bet I do. I do not think that all ENGO’s want to end recreational fishing. It is my feeling that the perception that all ENGO’s are after the recreational fishing community is fear mongering perpetuated by a small and vocal minority. It is my belief that most of the reputable ENGO’s want to see sustainable rebuilt fisheries resources. How does that not benefit the recreational community?

I know that there will be potholes along the road to success, but that does not mean we should not try to work together. I believe that it has the possibility of moving the recreational fishing community/industry toward that ever elusive vision of the future.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

September 9, 2013

New Rules for Bluefin

Amendment 7 could curb bluefin bycatch, but at what cost to anglers

By now, it’s cliché to talk about how destructive and bycatch-prone surface longlines are.  But I’ll go ahead and do it anyway.  These boats put out 30 to 40 miles of baited hooks and let them soak for long periods of time.  Anything that swims by and eats one of those baits — turtles, birds, sharks, marlin, sailfish, etc. — usually perishes, and because most of it isn’t marketable or is simply off limits it gets thrown back dead.  These longlines are mostly targeting marketable yellowfin and swordfish, but believe it or not, the total “unintended” catch/bycatch of bluefin in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico accounts for a whopping 25 percent of the entire U.S. quota.  For lack of a better phrase, that really sucks!  What a tremendous waste of a resource.   Not just a “resource” but an amazing animal capable of growing to 1500 pounds and living to be 40 years old.  If you’ve ever hooked into one, you know the unparalleled strength, power and speed.  They are awesome fish, and well, the unintended mortality from such indiscriminate gear is infuriating.

Certainly, NOAA Fisheries understands the problem.  For the past three decades they have tried to limit the number of bluefin caught and killed by surface longlines, including a prohibition on directly targeting bluefin in the Gulf of Mexico, closing certain areas to surface longlines, and requiring the use of “weak” hooks intended to straighten out on large bluefin in the Gulf.   So far, nothing has provided an effective long-term solution.   Believe it or not, U.S. surface longlines catch more bluefin tuna in the Gulf now than they did prior to the 1982 prohibition on direct targeting.

Such longline bluefin bycatch is of particular concern in the Gulf of Mexico, the only known spawning grounds for the western Atlantic Stock.  In the spring, the region’s powerful eddies bring nutrients to the surface creating distinct hotspots for spawning giants.  The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) effectively prohibited targeting bluefin in the Gulf in 1982, and theoretically, NOAA Fisheries complied.  Yet longline vessels are still allowed to keep a certain number of bluefin incidentally taken as bycatch while targeting other species.  It’s not a terribly big number (still, keep in mind that these are all large fecund fish).  Yet, as it stands now, once the longline boats catch their allotted quota, they still keep fishing, tossing those bluefin they encounter back.  Unfortunately, there is an exceptionally high mortality rate for bluefin released from longlines in this area.  While the warm waters of the Gulf are favorable for the development of the eggs and larval stage offspring, they create physically stressful conditions for giant tunas, which have large metabolic demands and die quickly from lack of oxygen in the warm water.   So, in other words, just about every tuna caught and released on longlines in the Gulf is doomed.  And these are Earth’s largest giant bluefin.  The big breeders that produce the most offspring.  The fish we should be trying hardest to protect.

To NOAA Fisheries’ credit, they are trying to address this, among other issues, in Amendment 7 to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, a draft of which they just released a couple of weeks ago.   The initial draft is a huge step in the right direction, but there are certainly drawbacks and it can and should probably go a little further than it does.

NOAA Fisheries’ preferred alternatives do indeed stipulate a significant surface longline closure in the northwest Gulf in April and May.  For decades, angling and conservation groups have advocated for such a closure, and this is a welcome change in position by NOAA Fisheries, yet it’s probably too small and too short.  Published science shows that the eastern Gulf has a hotspot as well, and this closure completely misses it.  It has also been well documented that spawning takes place from January to June and that March is a very significant month.  At the very least, what we should be advocating is a closure of the entire Gulf in U.S. waters from March to May.  Such a closure would capture the majority of bluefin bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico, and would finally be compliant with the ICCAT probation on fishing for bluefin in the Gulf.   Right now, we are indeed fishing for bluefin in the Gulf, whether incidentally or not.

I should also note there’s a significant surface longline bycatch issue off of North Carolina.  If you read any of the print or online fishing media you likely know about the extraordinary winter bluefin fishery off of Cape Hatteras that had popped up literally overnight a little less than a decade ago.  So it’s not hard to understand that the surface longliners operating in that vicinity would be encountering those same fish.  It’s important that NOAA Fisheries addresses this, and the agency is, however it’s probably not as critical as the Gulf closure as those Gulf fish are all western Atlantic giants there to spawn.  According to some recent science (referenced in my last blog) it’s likely that around half of those fish off of North Carolina are of eastern Atlantic origin (spawning in the Mediterranean), and well, those fish are doing a litter better than our western fish that spawn in the Gulf.

Getting back on point, one of NOAA Fisheries’ preferred alternatives is to restrict surface longlines in a relatively large area off Cape Hatteras.  Under the proposed rule, surface longlines could be used from December through April in this area, but only by vessels that have proven able to use the gear without catching bluefin.   Conditional access would be granted for 143 Pelagic Longline vessels, while 18 vessels would not have access.  Doesn’t sound all that significant, but it would apparently reduce the bluefin discards in the Atlantic by 77 fish, and would reduce the bluefin discards overall by 29%.

Now, let’s get away from closed areas for a minute and talk about some other noteworthy parts of the proposed rule.  NOAA Fisheries is proposing a “catch-cap” for bluefin killed on surface longlines along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  As mentioned, under current regulations, the longline fleet is permitted to continue fishing, thereby killing bluefin even long after its bycatch quota is met.  In other words, they keep fishing and keep catching bluefin that they dump overboard, mostly dead.  Under a catch-cap system, they would have to stop fishing entirely when that cap is reached.

One noteworthy component of this catch cap program, and one that industry seems to generally support, is an Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ).  Each surface longline vessel would be allocated an incidental quota share (a certain poundage of fish).  Each share would represent a set percentage of the Longline category bluefin quota. Based on that percentage, the vessel would receive an annual quota allocation of bluefin. Vessels would need a minimum amount of quota allocation to depart on a fishing trip with surface longline gear, or else they couldn’t sail.  Bluefin landed as well as dead discards would count toward the IBQ.  If a vessel catches more bluefin than the amount of bluefin allocation it has, it could finish the trip and land the bluefin, but must then account for the bluefin landed by leasing it from another vessel before another trip can be made.  Under the system-wide cap, once the total quota is reached, all surface longlining would be shut down.

Both of these alternatives sound pretty darn good to me, mostly because they would shut the fishery down once the quota has been met.  That’s dramatically different than how the fishery is currently managed, allowing longliners to continue fishing/continue killing long after it has reached its quota.

They both introduce a level of responsibility at the vessel level never before seen in this fishery, and create a real economic disincentive to catch and kill bluefin on surface longlines.

Now, here’s the bad news.  NOAA Fisheries’ preferred alternative seeks to add another 7 percent to the current surface longline allocation to account for the new catch cap and/or IBQ by taking it from the angling category as well as commercial tuna fishermen who use highly selective methods of fishing.  Groups specifically fishing for bluefin, from anglers to general category fishing boats, could lose nearly 63 tons of their current quotas to create the new longline quotas.  Arguably, this appears to reward the people who have the worst bycatch issues.

I have to point out here, however, that there is some justification for this.  The current quota (the fish surface longliners are allowed to keep) was really for landings only.  If I’m understanding this correctly, what the quota increase does is reinstate an ICCAT dead discard allowance that was repealed in 2006.  Still, there’s something not right about giving the people responsible for most of the dead discards a larger piece of the pie, so personally I don’t support it.  The surface longline quota should remain at 8.1 percent (the current level) and the fishery should be shut down under the catch-cap and/or IBQ when that quota is reached.

But let’s be honest here.  Regardless of whether we have to give up quota on the angling side as well as those other less bycatch prone gear sides, the cap/IBQ system is still a pretty darn big step in the right direction, because when they reach their quota, that’s it.  They have to stop fishing.  And that likely will translate into less needlessly dead bluefin.   Equally important is that  under this system, there is very real incentive to avoid catching bluefin.  Sure, it might not be fair, but if we’re thinking about the health of the resource alone, it’s still a very good thing for bluefin.  In the end, it’s the resource that’s important, not how many fish we get to kill.

A few other things of note before wrapping up.  One is the angling category “trophy” fish (over 72”) quota.  Right now, that quota is split two-thirds for the northern region (north of Egg Harbor, NJ) and one-third for the southern.  There is no trophy quota for the Gulf which makes sense given we are not supposed to be fishing for them in the Gulf, but fishermen in the Gulf can land giants under the southern trophy quota.  NOAA Fisheries is suggesting giving some fish to the Gulf by splitting the northern, southern and Gulf trophy allocation evenly.  How they could be suggesting such a thing is beyond me, and it certainly appears to be out of compliance with the ICCAT prohibition on fishing in the Gulf.   Not to mention, it would restrict the number of trophy fish in our region to about eight fish.

Also, NOAA is proposing new and improved monitoring of surface longline bycatch in the proposed rule.  There would be enhanced reporting requirements, electronic monitoring (e.g. video cameras on board), and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) requirements among other things.  Such a measure will allow real-time monitoring of any catch-cap and/or IBQ system.  Without-a-doubt, this is a good thing.

Another thing to note is that NOAA Fisheries is proposing limited surface longline access to previously closed areas.  There’s actually a pretty large area that has been closed since 1999 to surface longlines in June off of NY and NJ. It’s currently the only closed area off our coast designed to reduce bluefin interactions.  Access to this area, among others, would be based on past vessel compliance with things such as reporting, etc.  A certain number of surface longline vessels would be allowed to fish in these areas, but would have to have an observer onboard.  Given the requirements, I don’t expect this will be all that significant, but still, probably something I wouldn’t support.  Those areas were closed for a reason, they shouldn’t be reopened.

In addition to bluefin, NOAA Fisheries also proposes to establish a North Atlantic albacore tuna quota.  A northern albacore quota is long overdue; those fish are nowhere near as abundant as they were even 10 years ago.

What the proposal doesn’t seriously address is the issue of underreporting in the angling category, and the possible overharvest of angling-category fish.  See last week’s blog (Report Your Bluefin) for more info on that.  While that subject may be an uncomfortable one for us to broach, it still needs to be addressed.

So, here’s what comes next.  NOAA Fisheries will seek public comments on the proposed rule until October 23. The agency will host a series of hearings during which the public can urge NOAA Fisheries to issue a stronger final rule.  Written comments can be sent electronically: or by fax: 978-281-9340, Attn: Tom Warren.  Or by mail: Tom Warren, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, NMFS – Northeast Regional Office 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930

NOAA Fisheries will consider comments, finalize an Environmental Impact Statement, and then publish the final rule (estimated for Spring-2014).  The effective date of most measures would be January 2015.

Like I said, there are certainly some parts of the proposed rule I don’t like, but overall I think it goes a long way to address the insidious problem of surface longline bycatch.  Can it be strengthened?  Absolutely…  But not unless anglers really make their voice heard on this one.  So, attend one of the hearings close to you, or submit comments detailing what you like about the rule and what you don’t.  And if you need help with comments or a letter, don’t be afraid to shoot me an email:john@nycflyfishing.com.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

September 4, 2013

Big Fish May Spell Trouble

A slow bluefin tuna season with larger than average fish prompts concern

 

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The New England Bluefin tuna season has seen a slow start and it does not seem to have gotten a whole better better. Some would say that it has gotten a lot worse. For those who have been able to find the fish, the average size is up over that of the last few years. What does this mean?

I should also say that this blog contradicts what one of my fellow bloggers reported last week, but his comments came from the Mid-Atlantic area. He has been seeing a lot of what I am calling smaller bluefins. They don’t seem to have shown up the same way north of the Cape. In the New England area, I cannot believe that the low reported numbers is all a product of non-reporting by the angling category permit holders.

At the time this was being written, I did not have the latest landings data from National Marine Fisheries Service, but all the anecdotal information pointed to lower landings of bluefin with an increase in the average size. That was confirmed by one of the very top bluefin scientists Molly Lutcavage, who is a research professor for UMass and works out of the Large Pelagics Research center at Hodgkins Cove north of Annisquam on Cape Ann. She indicated, “The availability of really big fish seems to be higher than the last couple of years.”

Some think that the low numbers are a product of poor weather during June and July, but it may also be a product of low forage base. On the other side of that are reports from a number of spotter pilots that indicate they are seeing much larger schools of really large fish. That is good news and bad news.

One boat out of Gloucester, MA did land a pretty decent fish that weighed in at 920 pounds. I did not confirm this, but suspect that was bled weight so the fish in total would have been over a grand. It was landed by one of the boats from “Wicked Tuna,” a somewhat moronic show in my opinion, but that has little to do with the tuna fishery for this summer. Good news.

This year’s Bluefin Blowout tournament out of Cape Ann’s Marina and Resort had 45 boats that fish hard for two days from Cape Cod up to Nerw Hampshire and well offshore. The result was not a single fish was landed during the tournament. Bad news.

This overall scenario reminds me of the mid-1980’s when the size of the average bluefin was on the rise and the numbers were in decline. During that period, the All-Tackle IGFA record for bluefin seemed to get broken every year. Most of those fish were taken up off Nova Scotia in the Auld’s Cove area which is near the Canso Causeway. I fished several years back then off North Lake, Prince Edward Island. We saw many granders and my largest weighed in at 1,115 pounds bled weight. I’d like to know what it would have weighed in total. I digress. What was happening then was that we were witnessing the end of a cycle of abundance. The remaining fish got really big, but there was not a lot to fill in behind it. Those big fish are prolific breeders and they were taking the brunt of the fishing pressure. It was not a good situation. My concern is that we may be seeing the beginning of the same type of cycle.

The other thing that is concerning is that the big fish have brought out the tuna seiners, who have been sitting on the sidelines for quite a few years, some since 2004. They have been making some sets and doing pretty well. This was the same scenario back in the 1980’s. There was all kind of effort to keep them out of Massachusetts Bay to give the harpoon, general category and recreational boats a chance at the fish. That did not work and the seiners took most of their quota in big fish.

I realize that they made a deal to stay away from small bluefin tuna in order to get a quota of giants, but I have thought all along that this is a very poor use of a valuable resource. Their quota has a far greater socio-economic value being caught by general category, harpoon or recreational users. Now let’s face it, there are not many true recreational users when it comes to the giants, but the net value still is far greater. As for a product, those caught by hook and line or harpoon are higher quality than those fish that are beaten up as the net is pursed along side the seiner vessel.

It is time for the majority of bluefin tuna users to push for the elimination of purse seining of this valuable resource in the western North Atlantic ocean. It seems to me that the remaining vessels in this fleet have survived catching other fish and they should make that a full time effort. This is a great opportunity to support the small boat fleet and create a greater socio-economic value from the public trust resource. Maybe this should be part of the Magnusson-Stevens Act re-authorization or maybe it can be a regulatory fix. Whatever the answer, it will not get done without a lot of us making it happen.

For More Information:

Cove-based study eyes ‘juvenile’ bluefin tuna

New bluefin tuna rules proposed in Atlantic, Gulf

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