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Bluefin Surge: Best season start in years.

July 10, 2009

Commercial Fisheries News
July 2009
By Lorelei Stevens
Commercial Fisheries News

HARWICH, MA- The harpoon fishery for bluefin tuna was on fire during the beginning of June, raising hopes for a good commercial season for the first time in a long time.

As of June 12, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reported harpoon category landings of 109 fish with an average round weight of 262 pounds.

General category landings totaled 65 fish with an average round weight of 256 pounds. The length of the fish went from the upper 70” range to the middle 80” range.

The first two fish of the season were caught on opening day, June 1, by Michael Pratt of Green Harbor, MA, “with marginal weather and minimal participation in fishing,” according to Rich Ruais of the East Coast Tuna Association.

In the days that followed, a few fish were taken around Cape Cod but, for the most part, the action by midmonth was north of the Cape, with Perkins Cove, ME, Ogunquit, ME, and Gloucester offloading the most fish, according to NMFS.

Chris Weiner, who is part of a family of experienced harpooners, said fishermen were seeing bluefin everywhere in the Gulf of Maine.

“We have a very large body of fish that we have not seen in a long time and there’s no doubt why–there are lots herring and other bait around,” he said. “Everyone’s doing well right now, seeing a lot of fish and catching them, too. Boats that we haven’t seen for a few years are back on the scene and people are optimistic. It’s great to see.”

Pete Mourmouras of Saco Bay Tackle Co. of Saco, ME said his shop was getting a lot of extra business due to the bite.

“People are bringing in Penn reels for servicing that they haven’t used in awhile,” he said. “There’s a lot of stick boat action right now out on the northern side of Jeffreys and some on Stellwagen”

Touchy market

Dealers, too, were excited over the prospect of good catches, though their enthusiasm was somewhat tempered by worries about the market.

While a few of the very early fish did OK, with a couple exported to Japan returning around $8 per pound to the boat, it didn’t last. Most dealers reported prices of around $4-$6 per pound with a few going a little higher.

Bob Campbell of the Yankee Fishermen’s Co-op in Seabrook, NH said the co-op had handled 20 fish as of June 12 and got two more the following day, despite a stretch of bad weather.

“The size range has been between 145 and 260 pounds,” he said. “The fish are typical early fish with nice color, mostly, and no fat.”

Campbell added that all the fish had been sold domestically, returning $4.25-$7.75 per pound to the boat.

Robert Fitzpatrick of Chatham-based Maguro America added that the volume of bluefin landed this early in the season was exceptionally high.

“It’s never happened this early at this level,” he said in mid-June. “Fortunately, they’re starting to show some fat.”

The real challenge will be dealing with weak global demand for even the best seafood, according to Andy Baler of Nantucket Fish Co., based in Dennis and Chatham, MA.

“The tuna market a week ago was strong,” he said on June 12. “But as soon as landings started coming in, things went bad. Worldwide, if there’s any volume, forget it. It’s the same with groundfish. These are some of the worst prices we’ve ever seen.”

On a more positive note, Baler added that fishermen who started off around the Cape reported seeing huge numbers of bluefin too small to sell, which bodes well for future years.

“The bodies of 40” to 50” fish were incredible,” he said.

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