No more trophies?

Has the foundation been laid to close the entire large medium and giant bluefin tuna fishery off our northern coast? Could this recent Canyon Runner Sportfishing bluefin be one of the very last trophy bluefin tuna caught in 2010?

On July 16, 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced the closure of the Northern Area Trophy Fishery, effective July 18, 2010 for trophy bluefin tuna caught in the northern area. Below is the official NMFS News Release:
NMFS closes the northern area Angling category fishery for large medium and giant ("trophy") BFT for the remainder of 2010. Fishing for, retaining, possessing, or landing large medium and giant BFT (measuring 73 inches curved fork length or greater) north of 39°18' N. lat. (off Great Egg Inlet, NJ,) is prohibited effective at 11:59 p.m., July 18, 2010. The intent of this closure is to prevent overharvest of the Angling category northern area trophy BFT subquota of 1.7 mt. NMFS closed the southern area trophy BFT fishery effective June 12, 2010.

Fishermen targeting Highly Migratory Species (HMS) such as sharks, swordfish, billfish, and tunas in the Atlantic must obtain permits from NMFS. If you fish offshore waters, that is no big secret. HMS permitting however is categorized into two categories, Angling and General. The Angling category refers to recreational anglers and tournament offshore anglers while the General category refers to all commercial fishing operations, including HMS Charter/Headboat operations. The recent closure affects bluefin tuna fishermen, fishing in the Atlantic Ocean north of Great Egg Inlet or north of 39°18' N. latitude under the Angling category. The southern area has already been closed to all trophy bluefin tuna fishing.

According to NMFS, HMS Angling refers to: "All private vessel owners/operators recreationally fishing for and/or retaining regulated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (Atlantic tunas, sharks, swordfish and billfish) for personal use in the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. These recreational anglers must obtain an Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Angling permit similar to Atlantic Tunas permit. This permit is for recreational fishing only, no sale of catch is permitted. This permit allows a vessel to participate in registered recreational HMS fishing.

Who does this really affect? In short, any recreational angler that by chance catches a trophy bluefin tuna north or south of that latitude must release the fish immediately. Targeting bluefin in that size range is prohibited in both areas for the remainder of the 2010 season. In the northeast, this rule pretty much affects anglers fishing in New England and nearby waters off Montauk, Block Island out to Nantucket. However, The Canyon Runner Sportfishing crew of Central New Jersey recently found a pile of trophy bluefin off the Jersey coast. It is very possible for any offshore hunter to run across and tie into this caliber of fish. These larger bluefin showing off the Jersey coast is unfortunate timing for fishermen but good for the betterment of the overall fishery according to NMFS and why the regulation change was put into action.

Recent catches aboard the Canyon Runner raise some very interesting scenarios. In addition to the trophy class of bluefin, the crew is catching 200 pound big-eye, that when measured, can fall into the size range of trophy bluefin. For many, bluefin are often confused with big-eye tuna, especially at boat-side. What's more, and right now, these fish inhabit roughly the same waters. Bluefin tuna aficionados know that bluefin tend to migrate along the 20 and 30 fathom lines. However, as bait supply, water temperature and current flow changes, that is not a given rule. It is not out of the realm of possibility for a trophy sized bluefin to drop offshore and hang on the 40 fathom line or even closer to the edge. Now, two bodies of fish that look alike and often cause confusion when determining the specie are feeding in close proximity to each other.

How does one judge a bluefin from a big-eye? Some say, check the liver but that would mean the fish is dead. Here are some characteristics to determine whether your trophy sized tuna is a big-eye or bluefin:

Bluefin have a noticeable notch in the caudal fin. Big-eye tuna do not have a notch in their tail. The bluefin tuna anal fin is white while the big-eye has some yellow hues. Big-eye is believed to have evolved from a parent stock of yellowfin tuna, thus offering more hues of yellow throughout the fish over bluefin. Or, you can hire the Canyon Runner crew or any experienced crew and have them show you firsthand. It beats the alternative if you are wrong, a healthy fine.