Tuna Slaughter


Two young friends of mine were fishing off Cape Cod yesterday (Aug. 6) when a bluefin seiner from CT showed up and made a set on 100s of under-sized tuna less than 73 inches. They killed all of them, dumped them back and made another set. “How is this still allowed,” they asked me? “We work so hard to catch one in a sustainable way, makes my blood boil seeing this happen.”

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A purse seiner out of Connecticut?

This has me curious.  As I uinderstood the commercial bluefin fishery, there were no more than five Purse Seine Category permits issued, all to New Jersey boats, and only the White Dove was fishing actively.  Thus, when I read the story, I wondered which of the following was true:
1)  I was wrong about who had Purse Seine Category permits and who was actively fishing them.
2)  The White Dove had moved to Connecticut.
3)  The boat was fishing illegally.
Any of the above could be true, with #1 perhaps the most likely, but the entire incident raises a different question that is perhaps more relevant:  Why are we still beating up bluefin tuna?
The 2003 year class was the best bluefin tuna year class that we had for many years, and nothing since has come close.  It is now 10 years old, and so--depending on which scientist you believe, right on the threshold of sexual maturity (some biologists believe that western stock bluefin mature as young as 8, some believe as old as 13).  Given the dire straits of this stock (I've fished them since the 1970s, and so have a pretty good sense of relative abundance), fisheries managers should be trying to shepherd as many as possible into the spawning stock, and striving to keep them alive for as long as possible to maximize the breeding population.  Instead, the fish are being caught as bycatch by pelagic longliners, taken by Harpoon and General Category commercials, and purse seined as well.  And anglers are no saints, beating the fish up mercilessly whenever they appear in an area, and frequently (at least in my area) poaching more than are taken legally, often so that they can be illicitly sold through the back doors of sushi shops (Angling Category permittees are not allowed to sell their catch).  It has gotten so bad in my area (Long Island, NY) that I was told that one "sport" fisherman was a great guy by the then-chairman of a local fishing club, because when he went out for bluefin, he would only kill two fish.  When I pointed out that the limit was just one bluefin per boat, I was told that didn't matter, and shouldn't be counted against the angler, because "one fish isn't enough for six guys, and most people take more."  A marina owner told me, less than two weeks ago, that he was aware of "recreational" boats killing 8 to 10 fish on a trip so that they could be sold illegally.  Enforcement, obviously, is nearly nonexistant.
NMFS should be taking better care of the 2003s.  Anglers should be ashamed of the way that they're abusing this troubled resource.  And enforcement agents, at the state and federal level, should be cracking down on fishermen--sport and commercial alike--and levying the sort of fines that would quickly become the talk of the waterfront and maybe cause at least a few people to think twice before jumping on the poaching bandwagon.

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