Riptide Opinion: My Take On the New Bluefin Regs

New regulations for 2011 are aimed at protecting large bluefins. Photo by ##http://newenglandboating.com/author/terryn## Capt. Terry Nugent##

I must be in the minority based on the ranting and raving I’ve read on the internet regarding the latest round of bluefin tuna regulations. Nearly every site seethes with outrage over NMFS for shutting down the 60”-73” slot size of bluefin tuna, along with the drastic reduction of the “Trophy” quota for those of us in the Northeast. And while I feel that the open season in North Carolina is unfair, I don’t see this latest round of regulations as being terribly unreasonable. I’m not always a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I still see some good in the new regs.

I’ll explain my way of thinking: The latest threat to the bluefin fishery was an Endangered Species Listing, which would have completely shut down all fishing—commercial and recreational—for bluefin tuna. It would also have impacted fishing for other species in areas where bluefins could be caught incidentally. The ESA listing has not happened (yet), so I’ll focus on the current situation.

I try to educate my charters on the benefit of catch and release. I explain how keeping the fish in the water for pre-release photos helps to ensure a higher rate of survival for the tuna.

Fishermen holding a charter/headboat permit (which includes me) get to play both sides of the fence. We can be both recreational and commercial. With the predominant class of fish being over 73″, the commercial side of the charter/headboat permit will likely come into play. If a charter angler catches a tuna over the 73″ mark, it becomes property of the boat and can be sold by the captain (once the minimal “Trophy” quota in the Angling Category is filled). This is not a bad thing for the captain or his sports, as I see it.

Sure, the anglers don’t get to go home with a cooler of tuna steaks, but, to be honest, a 73″-plus fish is usually way more than 4 to 6 guys can deal with. Much of the fish gets frozen, wasted, etc. This is not good for the angler, the fishery or the economy.

Studies show that bluefin tuna can and do survive release. Photo by ##http://newenglandboating.com/author/terryn## Capt. Terry Nugent##

On the contrary, a fish that is taken to market by the charter captain and sold can be a win-win. In many cases the angler(s) get a share of the money from the fish or a break on the price of the charter. The captain profits from the sale of the fish, in addition to the charter fee. The economy gets a fish sold from charter captain to buyer, to market, to restaurant, to patron. That’s a lot of money being generated, from boat to end-user. It’s certainly a better option than several hundred pounds of freezer-burned tuna that’s likely to end up in the garbage.

When it comes to fishing on a charter boat or even the majority of private boats, tuna are considered “sport fish”. Yes, tuna are some of the more tasty sport fish, but many anglers like to catch them simply for the thrill of landing a big, powerful fish that can test their skills, stamina and tackle. If a person is only interested in bringing home meat for the table, his money is much better spent at the fish market, buying what he needs in sub-hundred-pound quantities. Also, there is no guarantee of catching a tuna on a fishing trip, so right off the bat it’s a gamble for the sport of trying to catch one.

There are numerous species that are targeted solely for their sporting qualities and not as table fare. Why can’t tuna be one of those fish? Tarpon, bonefish, giant trevally, marlin and others provide anglers with great fishing and charter skippers with solid income, yet very few if any of those fish are taken for the table, even though some are edible.

Given the global pressure on bluefins, one might think that easing the burden on these fish would be welcome, especially by those who collect a paycheck on the back of the fish. As a charter captain, the last thing I want is to loose the ability to target these fish or, worse, loose them from the oceans completely. I know “we” are not the big problem, but why can’t we be a small part of the solution?

Studies show that bluefin tuna can and do survive release. Photo by ##http://newenglandboating.com/author/terryn## Capt. Terry Nugent##

I try to educate my charters on the benefits of catch and release. I explain how keeping the fish in the water for pre-release photos helps ensure a higher rate of survival for the tuna. Further, I have never had an angler who landed a tuna outside the slot limit complain about not being able to keep the fish. Most are simply thrilled that they got to fight and land one of the most powerful fish in the ocean.

Rather than complaining about the current regulations, why not put some more effort into educating anglers about the many challenges faced by bluefins globally and encouraging a more release-oriented charter/recreational fishery, at least until the tuna can overcome some of the overfishing, bycatch mortality and habitat destruction.

I don’t ever want to stop fishing for bluefins. I love the challenge of trying to land them day in and day out. I never want to see them listed as endangered or threatened. If that means releasing more of them in exchange for a healthy fishery down the road, I’m all for it. And with a little education I think most anglers would agree.

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