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Gatley: Bluefin tuna

6/29/2010

The recent adjustments to bluefin tuna regulations are sure to have an impact on many tuna fisherman this season.

As it stands, the recreational sector may harvest one bluefin measuring from 27 inches to less than 59 inches per trip, per vessel. I am sure has the regulations have their reasoning, but has common sense factored into the final decision of the National Marine Fisheries Service?

Tournament tuna angler and conservationist Matt Boomer of Maryland would like to see the NMFS consider regulations that allow each vessel to harvest one fish below (say 50 inches) or closely above 59 inches. During the tuna battle, quick decisions can then be made by the captain to either harvest that fish or let him go without further harm to any and all tuna during the measuring process.

"Properly measuring a large school or small medium bluefin at or around the 59-inch mark can be a dangerous task for the crew not to mention the fish," said Boomer, who said that subduing an angry bluefin at boat-side for a measurement takes time and manpower. "And, if a fish is over 59 inches and must be released according to the regulations, the likelihood of that tuna living is low. After all, the fish battled the anglers as well as the measuring process."

From a common sense standpoint, I have to agree. If any of you have tried to subdue a 55-60 inch bluefin tuna at boat-side to obtain a measurement, then you know where we are coming from. Let me be the first to tell you that the fish and the crew can take a beating during the measuring and release process.

Many anglers would like to have the option of harvesting the first tuna at or around 59 inches and simply releasing any and all fish they may catch after that first tuna was harvested. It is their opinion that the overall stock of bluefin would fare much better in the long run.

Some anglers have suggested a measurement leeway, say of three inches, for optimum decision-making by the captain and to best protect the species.

I think we all agree that regulations are in place to protect fish. But, are we doing more harm than good in some cases due to regulations such as this year's bluefin size adjustment?

Common sense leads me to believe that more harm than good can come from the improper release of 59-plus inch fish as we seek a fish under 59 inches to harvest. It may just be easier to harvest that first tuna give or take a couple inches while properly taking care of all releases thereafter.

Sound reasonable? What are your thoughts?

The best at taking a big bluefin tuna right now in the northeast is in the Cape Cod region, Stellwagen Bank and points north have been witnessing an incredible return of really big bluefin tuna. Within eyesight of land, bluefin ranging from 100 pounds to 400 pounds are feeding on just about everything.

Friends inform me daily that one cast produces a striped bass while the next cast ties into a 200-pound tuna. In my opinion, there is no place in North America that can match the daily occurrences going on right now in Massachusetts and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary region.

For those fishing in these waters, captains and anglers have options. Fish are taking plugs, top water lures, live bait, jigs and they would probably hit a fork if you threw it in the water.

Avid tuna angler Ted Cannon of Ivyland, Pa., recently hired Capt. Gary Cannell on the Tuna Hunter in Gloucester, Mass.

"Tuna fishing in New England is like striped bass fishing off the Jersey coast in that we net bunker and live line them," Cannon said. "Only here in New England, the fish are hundreds of pounds."

Credit where its due

Two weeks ago, I reported in "Bunker Wars" that bunker are filter feeders, and without them only bacteria and jellyfish can eat the plankton floating in the water. I then went on to report that the complexity is that jellyfish also eat fish fry as well as fish eggs. In short, bunkers play a pivotal role in balancing the ecosystem.
Please allow me to give credit where credit is due. This little known information was provided to me by Capt. Steve Byrne of First Cast Charters of Staten Island, New York.

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).