Reel-Time readers… I received the below response from a lifelong tuna fisherman. I thought it was particularly relevant to the CITES discussion taking place here and on other forums. The sender wishes to remain anonymous, but it’s certainly worth a read.
“The plain fact is that the population is not healthy. A healthy population supports a spring recreational fishery off Bimini, when boats from Florida and the Bahamas sight-fish for giants streaming up out of the Gulf and up along the edge of the Bahamas Bank. A healthy population puts the gear of Long Island’s shark anglers in danger, as giants pick up mackerel and other baits drifted in chum slicks during late June and take anglers in center consoles on a Nantucket sleigh ride. A healthy population sees school fish swarm from Cape May to Cape Cod, not just here and there, but throughout that range, throughout the summer. A healthy population supports events such as the United States Atlantic Tuna Tournament in places such as Galilee, Rhode Island in late summer, with big fish taken not at Nomans, or the Mud Hole or Coxe’s Ledge, but within sight of shore at Rosie’s ledge and Nebraska Shoal. A healthy population means that when you least expect it, chumming bluefish on Barnegat Ridge, a pod of giants will crash the party and take off with one of your hooked fish. A healthy population means that charter boats out of Provincetown will have a good chance of scoring multi-giant days throughout the summer. A healthy population has sees the Bay of Fundy and other Canadian waters alive with fish throughout the year, at times so far north that anglers fish amid the remains of icebergs. A healthy population sees giants in Butterfish Hole in the fall, and in the Shinnecock Tuna Hole, and sometimes on the Patchogue Grounds. From October through November, it encourages boats to line up the entire length of the western Mud Hole, and sees anglers on those boats hook up on a fairly regular basis. A healthy population means that, in any given year, most and probably all of those things will happen with predictable regularity.
There won’t be a good run off fish off Chatham, or Cape Ann or the Maine coast, and little more than a spattering somewhere else. There will be fish, and an abundance of fish, throughout their range, appearing off New York and Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Maine and Prince Edward Island at the same time. I can say that because I lived in a time when the fish were abundant. I saw some of what I describe when I was too young to hold onto a bluefin, and I read about other things in the angling press. But except for Bimini, Canada and northern New England, I experienced the rest of it for myself, back in the ’70s, when the decline had already started but the health of the population was still pretty fair.
I fell in love with this fish back then, and until a couple of years ago, when my conscience got the better of me, fished for and caught them every season. And knowing what we lost, I get annoyed when I hear people like (name deleted) essentially maintain that since the fish may not technically be endangered–although we can even debate that point, depending on how we draw the population line trending into the future–we should settle for “badly depleted” and call it ‘good enough”, because somebody can still peel a dollar or two off the bluefin’s hide.
In the days when the bluefin was abundant, there was no market, except maybe ten cents a pound for pet food if you found a buyer in the right mood, and maybe that was why you could regularly see the fish blow through the surface of Cape Cod Bay, and stand on the deck of the Sea Squirrel or one of the other cod boats out of Pt. Judith and watch giants turn the water white somewhere between the breakwall and Coxe’s.
So long as dollars drive the management decision, rather than hard science and the biological needs of the tuna, the species will always teeter at the edge.”