By Monique Coombs, Marine Resources Coordinator for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association
The Bluefin tuna fishery has long been a part of Harpswell’s heritage. The Casco Bay Tuna Club’s Bailey Island Fishing Tournament began in 1938. At almost 80 years old, it is the longest running fishing tournament on the East Coast (the first Bluefin tuna tournament was held in Nova Scotia in 1937. We were so close to being the first!). At this time, the 1940s, and even into the 1960s, catching tuna was simply done for fun. The trophy was simply a picture with the fish, and then the beautiful Bluefin was sent to make animal food, or right to the landfill. Thankfully, things have changed. There are a few fishermen that only fish for Bluefin, but most have other jobs that supplement their income. Most fishermen who catch tuna also catch other fish, such as groundfish or lobsters.
In the beginning of the year, one Bluefin tuna can capture up to two million dollars. The reason that this happens is not because they are so rare and mysterious, but because many Japanese restaurateurs believe the first tuna of the year to be the luckiest. And, yes, sometimes it is just a publicity stunt. That being said, Bluefin tuna is one of the most valuable fish species in the world. During the Bluefin tuna season, fishermen can earn $5-25 per pound for a fish, depending on its quality.
This past year, my husband and I finally caught our first Bluefin tuna. We’ve been exploring the Gulf of Maine, hunting for these beautiful, fast fish for three years with no luck. Finally, during the first part of August, one very, very early morning (2:30am!) one of our lines finally pulled tight. As we reeled the line in we could start to see the fish as it got closer to the surface. To be honest with you, we couldn’t quite believe it until we actually got it aboard (we thought perhaps that it was a porbeagle shark). And, even then, despite being the weigh master for the Casco Bay Tuna Club and measuring many, many tuna in my past, Herman made me measure the fish three times just to be sure that we could actually keep it. It was 74 inches. A tuna must be 73 inches to be landed. Tuna can be landed any time of day or night, but many tuna fishermen believe that the fish are more likely to bite during the night and very early morning. Very early morning!
As well as being a beautiful fish, the Bluefin tuna is extremely interesting. It is a histamine fish, which means that if you were to eat spoiled tuna, it would seem like you were having an allergic reaction. Other fish that cause this type of food poisoning are herring and bluefish. Bluefin tuna are built for speed and can dive up to depths of 1,600 feet. Their bodies tend to stay rigid while their tails power them forward and help fight against being caught. They are a very, very strong fish.
The United States Bluefin tuna fishery is managed in a way that is sustainable. When purchasing Bluefin tuna, it’s important to ask where it comes from just as you might with any other type of fish. If you’re interested in purchasing some Bluefin tuna to eat at home, I suggest some place like Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine. Browne works with buyers who are committed to getting the highest quality fish, including Chubby Fish located right here in Harpswell. And keep in mind that tuna can be used for more than just sushi and sashimi. You can try making a crudo at home or you can marinate the tuna and put it on the grill. Or how about a fresh salad nicoise avec fresh tuna instead of tuna from the can?
The tuna season starts June 1, but the tuna don’t head our way to closer to July, and the season lasts until November.
Monique Coombs, Marine Resources Coordinator for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, contributes a “Seafood in the Spotlight” column for the HHLT newsletter to help point out lesser known species, highlights from the seafood industry in Maine and recipes. Feel free to contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.