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Find out more from the Center for Biological Diversity:
Bluefin Boycott
Martha's Vinyard Magazine, July, 2011

Appreciating tuna
By Catherine Walthers

Tuna is a big fish – both in size and in flavor. The less it’s cooked, the more flavor it has, says Louis Larsen, owner of the Net Result fish market in Vineyard Haven.

“It’s hard to catch one, but it’s my favorite kind of fishing,” says Robby Coad of Edgartown, a commercial fisherman and charter captain.

A seventy-three-inch tuna, the legal commercial length from the jaw to the notch in the tail, might weigh about two hundred pounds, and they show up as big red dots on his electronic fish finder, says Robby. Finding a fish’s location, however, doesn’t necessarily guarantee a catch.

Tuna have incredible vision, Robby explains, and they’re fast. “They can swim over fifty miles an hour, so it’s easy to lose them, especially when they’re on the line and scared. It’s hard to do and you don’t get them every time you go.” Bluefin and yellowfin are the most prevalent large tuna species in these waters. They tend to show up in late spring, in the deep cold waters off the coast of Provincetown and east of Nantucket, and stick around until fall, when they start fattening themselves before heading south to spawn.

When he takes paying customers out on his boat Tenacious, Robby likes to head out as early as he can persuade a party to go, even leaving as early as 3 a.m. to get to the fish at first light. “They bite first thing,” he says. His recreational charters to fish for tuna cost $1,500 for up to six people for the trip.

As a fisherman for the past forty years, Robby says the changes in tuna fishing he’s seen are dramatic. “We don’t see as many big ones as we used to,” he says, adding that it takes twenty-five years for a tuna to reach four to five hundred pounds.

Conservationists have expressed concern that overfishing and habitat degradation, including effects of the BP oil spill on bluefin spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, have contributed to a decline in the bluefin tuna population. The Center for Biological Diversity has sought endangered species status and a ban on bluefin fishing, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees U.S. fisheries, this year elected not to implement. However, there are minimum size restrictions and limits on the number of fish that can be caught.

Robby says he will continue to follow the current size and catch restrictions, but carefully avoids the politics when asked for his opinion. “I’m a commercial fisherman,” he says with a laugh. “It’s not up to me to make the regulations; it’s up to me to catch the fish. It’s what I do.”

Robby, who once caught an 846-pound tuna (his record), might sell a high-fat-content tuna bound for the Japanese market for $6 to $30 a pound at auction, compared to $3 to $6 a pound for domestic consumption.

Louis Larsen says the tuna sold in his fish market come from nearby waters and as far away as South Africa or Vietnam. “They swim all over the world,” he explains, and a freshly caught fish can be bound for market within hours.

He prefers yellowfin tuna because of its deep, dark red color and because it’s more abundant than bluefin. He has carried bluefin, though he is considering not selling it, given the concern over stock depletion. He says it would almost be easier if there were an industry ban so market owners would not have to make individual decisions.


Copyright © 2011 Vineyard Gazette, Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton