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THOSE MAGNIFICENT GIANTS

 

THOSE MAGNIFICENT GIANTS

Is the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population on the brink of extinction?

Reprinted from the Spring 1999 special Bluefin Tuna issue of the Big Game Fishing Journal (Vol 12, No. 2) Will they be lost forever?

by James Chambers

http://www.bigmarinefish.com

 

Jack Cashman introduced me to sportfishing for giants two years ago. I'd been an avid saltwater fisherman for years and caught tarpon up to 170 pounds in Florida, but I never had the opportunity to fish for anything that came close to the size and power of these brutes. Since Jack has probably fought more large giants from 800 to 1,100 pounds than anyone, his friends hung the moniker "Jack the Giant Killer" on him. It was during a winter trip fishing for sailfish off Islamorada with Capt. Alex Adler on KALEX, that I first fished with Jack. I was thrilled fishing for the acrobatic billfish, but Jack kept pointing out that "catching a giant spoils you for all other fishing." He considers bluefin the ultimate big-game fish, so naturally, I wanted to know what it was eke to catch one: "Like hooking up to a Volkswagen doing 50 miles per hour straight away from you," came his reply.

 

"Are they more of a challenge than blue or black marlin," I asked, wanting to get a handle on just how strong they really are. "Big billfish are spectacular," Jack explained, "but they wear themselves out with all their jumps and surface tactics. Giant bluefin have more power and stamina than anything else that swims!"

 

Because of their great size and awesome power, fishing for giants can be dangerous. In the heat of battle, fishermen have lost body parts and been dragged over the side to their deaths in attempts to catch them. Even with modern fishing tackle, it is certainly not a sure bet that after hooking a giant you'll actually get it to the boat. With populations at such a low level, the average success rate for the very best captains and crews, I'm told, is only about one hook-up per five days of fishing, something I learned when I made my first forays to try my hand at fighting one on rod and reel. I also found out these big fish have an excellent chance of freeing themselves during the battle, something else I learned first hand.

 

Successful giant tuna fishermen use 130-pound class, two-speed reels spooled with 300-pound mono over dacron backing and, sometimes, leaders of fluorocarbon. They use surprisingly small hooks and bury them in a chunk of herring with a wedge of Styrofoam to maintain neutral buoyancy so the bait will drift back with the ladled chunks in a natural manner. Unlimited-class rods are rarely used; they are just too stiff to provide the bending action and pressure needed to whip a giant. Long, softer-action chair rods are more the norm. Baits are held in position using 6- to 12-ounce sinkers, depending on current strength, wrapped to the line with a rubber band and suspended at specific depths under balloons. Both the balloons and the depthfnder are watched carefully while chunking.

 

Ristori caught his 1,000-pounder while fishing with Capt. Bob Pisano of Brielle, New Jersey, widely recognized as being among the best giant-bluefin captains. Pisano recalls the day in October of 1979, while fishing off Rockport, Massachusetts, when they caught four giants estimated at 800 to 1,000 pounds, but kept none because the season had closed. When they battled a fifth tuna to the boat, estimated at over 1,600 pounds, they seriously considered keeping it for the recognition despite the $25,000 fine that would mean, but released it.

 

A giant's mark on the colorscope is bright red and often appears arch-shaped, due to its speed and vertical movements, while slow-moving blue sharks, often found on the same feeding grounds, usually appear as horizontal marks. Bluefin travel in schools generally consisting of fish about the same size. Marking a bluefin on the depthfinder occurs infrequently and is cause for excitement and hope during the long wait common when fishing for giants. However, experienced crews know a mark is no assurance the fish will take a bait. On the other hand, many giants are hooked without ever seeing a mark. Even so, I'd prefer to see marks than not. Hours, and even days, of tossing chunks over the transom without seeing a mark on the screen are occasionally interrupted by sheer pandemonium when a strike finally does occur. If you want some excellent in-depth lessons on finding and chunking bluefin, check out the article "To Chunk A Giant" by Capt. Cal Robinson (Fall 1996 Issue, Northeast Edition of THE JOURNAL) is a wonderful explanation of the nuances of this fishing.

 

If a giant is hooked and fought to the boat with the intention of selling it, the fish is harpooned, tail wrapped and bled by breaking open its gill arches to dispatch it quickly and to preserve the quality of the flesh. I've seen inexperienced crews bring in a beautiful fish completely ruined - its flesh turned to mush in just a few hours time - because it wasn't properly handled. The fish is brought on board through the transom door or, for big fish, over the side using a block and tackle fastened to the tower. It is gutted without cutting the valuable belly meat, the body cavity packed with ice and wrapped in an insulated foil blanket.

 

Back at port, the fish is taken around the harbor to get bids from competing tuna brokers. Each examines the fish on the boat, looking at its body shape and condition, and takes a core at its widest part to judge color. A thin slice near the tail is cut to check the fat content and marbling. The captain can either sell the fish to the highest bidding broker or take a chance and let one ship it to Tokyo on consignment for the daily auctions. Prices paid by brokers in New England have declined recently. The average general category bluefin tuna sold for just under $9 per pound dressed weight (about 80 percent of live weight) in 1997, and NMFS expects slightly lower figures for 1998. At such low prices, operating costs over the course of a season of tuna fishing generally exceed the income generated from the sale of the infrequently caught fish, even for the best captains. Once sold, the fish is hoisted onto a pallet, carried by forklift to have the head and tail removed and the body cavity cleaned out, and weighed. Then the carcass is packed in ice for its fight to the Orient.

 

My First Experience

 

I'm certainly not an expert at fishing for giant bluefin?few anglers outside of those who fish for market in New England today really are?but I have been involved in fighting six which weighed between 600 and 900 pounds. My first encounter with a giant occurred in early August 1997. As a result of my friendship with Jack Cashman, I'd been invited to fish with him on board Capt. Gary Cannell's TUNA HUNTER - a 36-foot Runaway sportfisherman. Captains Cannell and Cashman fished together for many years out of Brielle, New Jersey, and in more recent years in Massachusetts, and are old hands at this.

 

We left the Cape Ann Marina at 4:30 AM, passed under the ancient drawbridge at the entrance to Gloucester Harbor and headed out, dodging hundreds of lobster pot buoys on our way to the fishing grounds. Our destination was the tip of a small underwater ridge located between Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank. On calm days the trip involved an hour's run directly into a spectacular sunrise. When the day was fishless, the return home was into a similarly beautiful sunset. But when a fish is caught for market, the grounds are abandoned immediately to get it back to the dock. Only one fish may be landed per vessel per day during the commercial openings, so there is no reason to stay on the grounds. Some days held fog all the way out, or rain and heavy seas, but that's what makes tuna fishing interesting. After we passed through the lobster pot zone, the captain turned over the wheel and began the task of meticulously crimping hooks on the line and preparing each hook bait.

 

As soon we arrived, a handful of chunks went over the side with the anchor - a slick must be maintained without interruption until we leave a site. Chunking is tricky business. You want to entice them, not feed them. Too many chunks attract dogfish sharks, which will eventually drive you from the area. On the depthfinder, we occasionally saw small schools of herring or sand lance passing under the boat. We used Sabiki rigs fished just above the bottom to catch a few whiting or herring to use as live bait. Giants probably prefer to eat big bluefish, but they won't turn their nose up at a lively whiting, either. To prevent tangles, the captain slowly lowered each bait down to 60, 80 or 100 feet. A live bait went down to 120 feet.

 

We fished most often in water about 190 to 240 feet deep, usually located on the edge of a drop-off into about 400 feet. A quick look at a chart for this part of the Gulf of Maine will tell you immediately which areas have the right bottom structure to amass bait and attract tuna. Successful captains combine their knowledge of such structure with water temperature and currents to know when to fish specific spots. Even knowing where and when, a lot of people go to the right spots, but few catch a giant. Even fewer catch giants consistently.

 

Once the boat's at anchor, currents and wind continually move it around on its long anchor line and confound the captain's efforts to keep the lines from fouling on the screws, rudder, anchor line or each other, all of which could result in disaster if a giant hits. Marine birds, such as blackback and herring gulls or the tiny storm petrels, come by hoping to snatch a morsel from the slick. Beautiful shearwaters amaze you with their ability to swim down to great depths to steal your chunks. On Stellwagen and other productive shoals there is the added bonus of watching great whales breaching and often passing under and around the boats to feed on schools of baitfish. Occasionally, we saw big sharks and huge ocean sunfish cruising these gorgeous, deep-blue waters.

 

Raw Power Unleashed

 

On this day of fishing, the first giant hit about mid-morning. The captain manned the rod first to be sure it wasn't a blue shark as the other lines were cleared. Satisfied it was a tuna, he handed the rod to Jack and freed us from the anchor line and its buoy. Once hooked up, the heavy boat was actually dragged backward by the fish's raw power, a truly amazing feat. On most vessels fishing commercially, the TUNA HUNTER included, giants are fought standing up with the rod left in a swivel-type rod holder mounted at the transom corner. Keep in mind that a large giant is so powerful that it could literally crack the boat's transom if the rod holder was positioned in the center of the transom. While fighting chairs are generally not used for market fishing, anglers wishing to experience the power of the fish in the traditional manner will find a fighting chair an absolute must. In fact, an expert angler employing the proper techniques can exert even more pressure on a big fish by using a fighting chair. During the fight, Jack wore a plastic glove on his left hand allowing him to grab the line and pull it toward the big reel as he cranked the handle with his right. He lifts weights all year to prepare himself to do battle with these fish.

 

From the way this one was pulling, he knew it was a big one. "Maybe an eight," he said. Gary and Jack have caught hundreds of fish this size and larger over their years together and with Capt. Bob Pisano of Brielle, New Jersey, another legend in the giant tuna community, so they should know. They work with a perfect understanding of what the other will do at any given moment during the fight, so neither has to say much. These are real experts, and I felt privileged to fish with them and learn from them.

 

Jack let the fish make a long run, well into the dacron backing, without moving the drag much above the 30-pound-strike setting. He told me he lets them run as far as they can and exhaust themselves, just like we would feel after running 100 yards for a touchdown.

 

"Tuna stay down during most of the fight, so you don't get to see much of them until toward the end," he said. Jack put great pressure on the big fish. After only about 25 minutes, it came straight at us with Jack pumping and cranking furiously. From above, Gary yelled down, "He's shaking his head!" It didn't take me long to find out this is bad. With a mighty shake, the fish found a way to free itself from the hook, and it was gone.

 

Jack said quietly, "I'm just as happy he's free, to tell you the truth. I think we ought to stop fishing for them completely." He's read the report I wrote for Congress in 1996 while working for NMFS indicating that the population of western Atlantic bluefin has been reduced to a tiny fraction of the optimal level. The report only confirmed what he'd seen over 25 years of fishing.

 

We went back to the anchor buoy and the long process of setting out baits, and the waiting began again. That afternoon, we heard sporadic radio reports of hookups at a few sites and decided to try another area. Eventually we gave up there, too, and came in exhausted, arriving after dark. We agreed to meet the next morning at 4:15 AM.

 

Based on intelligence gathered after returning to the dock and his own experience, Gary decided to fish on the northwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. We were eventually joined by about 100 boats spread out for miles along the drop-off. Bait was abundant, and the whales provided great sightseeing. Sometimes this area produces many tuna, and Gary liked our chances. However, most tuna caught on Stellwagen Bank tend to be small, 250 to 350 pounds. None of us like the prospect of potentially injuring or killing undersize bluefin. Since Jack's here strictly for the sport of working the rod, like me, his preference is to go where he knows there is a chance to catch a real giant, or nothing at all.

 

Two Good Year Classes Left

 

We fished hard all day and the next to no avail. We talked a lot about the status of the bluefin population and what should be done to rebuild it. Gary feels that NMFS should allow landings only of mature fish, which we have had a chance to spawn at least once, giants over 310 pounds, and then increase the quota. However, the bluefin are getting scarce, and the chance to rebuild them is fading too.

 

Gary and Jack have known it from the time giant bluefin fishing was at its peak and giants could frequently be caught off New Jersey and Long Island, a rarity today. Together with Capt. Bob Pisano, this team was among the best giant fishermen on the coast, pioneers in the sport when it was a sport and not a business, before it became a highly profitable commercial fishery. I've seen many pictures from those days with Jack next to huge fish, including the first giant caught trolling off New Jersey, and photos of Gary standing beside genders. They fully appreciate this magnificent animal.

 

However, the bluefin population is now at the brink of extinction. Spawning age fish have declined in abundance by 87 percent since only the mid-1970s. Reproduction is poorer year after year. There are only two relatively decent year classes left. One just reached maturity and spawned for the first time in the spring of 1998. Those fish should now be almost 400 pounds. The other is younger, its members weighing around 75 pounds. Both need to be protected. Moreover, I believe many tuna fishermen would give up market fishing for bluefin entirely, at least for a time, to see a recovery ofthe population take place. Because of the low prices being paid for the fish today, there has never been a better time to suspend all types of lethal fishing for the species to begin rebuilding the population to a healthy level, one that could support both a commercial and recreational fishery again. Unfortunately, fishery managers both here and abroad don't agree.

 

Did I Catch a Giant?

 

Hey, I bet you still want to know whether I caught a giant on that trip, right? You know there are quotas and someone is going to catch them until every ounce of the available quota has been reached. Well, I did on the fourth day of fishing. After so many years of sitting behind a desk as a NMFS fisheries biologist, I finally got to see what it was like to catch one of these incredible fish, and it was an experience that changed my regard for them. It was a monster of 600 pounds. The battle lasted just over four hours; however, it would have been over in about 30 minutes if Jack had been fighting the fish. For the first 45 minutes, it literally towed the boat backwards at quite a pace! The fish was about 12 years old and probably spawned each of the last five years.

 

Pictured here is the crew of the TUNA HUNTER, (I-r) mates "Razor" Rob Penny and Bruce and anglers Jim Chambers and Jack Cashman pose with a 600-pound bluefin caught in 1997 near Gloucester, MA

 

Of course, it was the fishing experience of my life and a memory I will carry with me forever. I've been hooked ever since.

 

It is my hope that you will gain an appreciation of these fish and want to help protect them, too. If not, we will see them squandered by commercial interests, governments paralyzed by ineffective international management systems and an unconcerned public. If we care about the depletion of the bluefin tuna in the Atlantic, we will work harder to protect these fish and see that the oceans of the world have great animals like the bluefin tuna to awe future generations of fishermen.

 

Giants, The Ultimate Big Game!

 

They are the undisputed heavy-weight champions of the sportfishing world - the biggest and longest lived of the tuna clan. Giant bluefin, or "giants" as most fishermen refer to them, can grow to a ton in weight and have strength and stamina that few animals on earth can match. Since the turn of the century, fishermen using rod and reel have attempted to challenged them only to find the tackle of the day woefully inadequate. They had to improve and enlarge their gear to take the punishment dealt out by these massive fish. With each new step in technology, larger bluefin were landed. Today the All Tackle World Record stands at 1,496 pounds, with even larger specimens caught commercially on gear far too heavy to qualify for IGFA recognition. However you slice it, anglers seeking the ultimate challenge big game fishing has to offer still seek out the giant bluefin tuna, and there is only one area of the world where you can go to get a chance at hooking up to the very biggest of the species.

 

Technically, bluefin aren't considered giants until they are over 81 inches, at least that's what stock assessment scientists assume and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) declares in all the permits and regulations that surround the western Atlantic bluefin making it the most highly regulated recreational and commercial fishery in the world. "Large mediums," fish over 73 and less than 81 inches, and giants are the only bluefin that can be taken and sold commercially. At 81 inches, a giant would weigh about 310 pounds, be eight years of age, just reached sexual maturity and thus able to spawn for the first time.

 

The largest bluefin are most frequently caught during the summer and early fall months off the New England states, from Massachusetts to Maine, and north to Nova Scotia, Canada, where the world record was caught in 1979. Like the humpback and meinke whales found on the same feeding grounds, they have migrated to these waters for thousands of years to feed on what historically were great schools of herring, whiting, squid and other prey species drawn to these cold, nutrient-rich waters. By the end of this feeding season, the giants have swelled in girth from eating huge volumes of protein-rich forage species, developing large fat deposits between their muscle fibers that resemble the marbling found in prime beef. This stored, concentrated energy is needed to fuel their high level of activity, produce eggs in the females and buildup fat stores to prepare them for migration to their spawning grounds. The largest of the adults are so big, fast and powerful that they really have no ocean predators except killer whales and makos. However, man has done a enormous amount of damage to the once vast population of bluefin tuna that swam the Northwest Atlantic. Giants may be at the top of the food chain in their natural environment, but what no natural enemy could accomplish, human greed has done very effectively in just a few short decades in the form of overfishing.

 

Unfortunately, it is the very qualities of their rich, red flesh, with its high fat content and marbling, that has made bluefin the most desirable and valuable of all finfish on the Japanese market, where they are purchased for incredible sums to be carefully cut into tiny portions of high quality sushimi for affluent diners. Before bluefin burst on the market in the Orient, giants were virtually worthless as a commercial commodity, rarely bringing pennies per pound, if they could be sold at all. Then, their numbers were vast and the population was undamaged by the sport fishermen who pursued them for decades up and down the Atlantic coast of the United States.

 

Decimation of the Mighty Bluefin

 

The population of western Atlantic bluefin tuna began dropping like a rock in the late 1970s as a result of initial pressure by Japanese longliners on spawners concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico each spring. Even earlier, during the 1960s, NMFS' predecessor, the federal Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, promoted a commercial fishery for small bluefin for canning and an influx of purse seiners quickly put a hurting on the enormous schools of juveniles and pre-adults that traveled the inshore waters along the Atlantic coast. With the juveniles overfished in the 60s and the pressure put on the adult spawning population in the 70s that continues even today, the outcome was predestined. Bluefin tuna are heavily overfished and precariously paused to either begin rebuilding or collapse completely depending on what domestic and international managers do. Unfortunately, it seems, management regimes do not have the will to do anything substantive to make rebuilding a reality.

 

Prior to the 1960s and 70s, incredible sportfishing for bluefin, both large and small, could be had all along the continental shelf and in the many canyons that notch it between Georges Bank off Cape Cod southward down to New Jersey. That fishery had amazing, positive economic impacts on shore communities, building charter fleets, private marinas and expanding tourism with little pressure on the stocks. Today, as a result of past commercial overfishing, the population has declined by about 90 percent. The inordinate price big bluefin flesh brings on the Japanese market has prevented any real measures to bring commercial fishing for the remaining population under control, which would allow the population to actually rebuild, instead of just hovering at its current low levels, just above extinction!

 

Is There Still a Recreational Fishery for Giants?

 

Today, sport fishermen still seek an encounter with these remarkable fish, even if it is to simply fight and release them. The recent years of explosive fishing off North Carolina's Outer Banks created a "gold rush" mentality among sport fishermen eager to experience the power of large bluefin tuna, knowing full well they had to release them alive at the end of the fight. While much of the fishing today is catch and release, with tagging a common conclusion to the battle, those charter operators and fishermen with general category commercial permits still retain a limited number of the giants and large mediums for sale.

 

What is left of the rod and reel fishery for true giants is now centered on the nearshore and offshore banks which rise from about 400 feet to about 175 feet located off the coast of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and southern Maine. Places like Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank are historic sites to find pods of giants patrolling for the schools of herring or whiting that still congregate there. While trolling is employed early in the season, before the fish establish their routines and settle in, chunking with cut herring is the method most used to tempt a giant with rod and reel.

 

Typical charter and private sport fishing vessels in New England range from 30 to 45 feet, with everything from center consoles to trawlers, harpoon, and lobster boats being used when the commercial season is open. Even though charter and private boat rod and reel fishing is popular, when the season is open, most fish over 73 inches are sold at the dock. Therefore, when planning a charter, ask the captain about the boat policy regarding fish retained for sale. If the season is closed, charter fishing will be strictly catch and release. Privately owned boats fishing for bluefin of any size must register in the "angling" category and obtain a permit for $18 from NMFS. Even when the commercial harvest is closed, angling and charter category boats are permitted to keep one "trophy" bluefin per season per boat, and it may be from the "large medium" or "giant" category. It may not be sold and the catch must be reported to NMFS within 24 hours of landing. The regulations on fishing for bluefin are convoluted, and extremely confusingly, so, if you plan to fish from your own vessel, or just want more information, call 1-888-USA TUNA for a compendium and to purchase a permit. They Still Go to Japan Most large medium or giant bluefin sold are immediately shipped fresh, by air, to Japan. Only the lesser quality fish are sold at local restaurants. Wealthy Japanese diners pay up to, and sometimes even more than, $200 per pound for the best quality bluefin sushimi. In 1995, one exceptional fish caught in Canada sold at the Tokyo fish market auction for over $80,000. Only a few years ago, brokers were paying $10 to $20 per pound, or $5,000 to $10,000 for a single fish right at the dock in New England. The incredible monetary value and an absence of responsible, resource-based stewardship of the stocks by the organization having international management authority over bluefin, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), has led to years of overfishing resulting in the population's precarious state. Seventy years of recreational fishing did little to hurt the stocks when the fish had little or no commercial value. Prices at the dock have recently declined substantially to about $9 per pound on average in 1997 but often reaching $4 per pound or less making this a good time to seek sterner measures to rebuild the population by limiting the kill by all sectors.

 

International Management Gets a Failing Grade

 

Since 1969, bluefin have been managed throughout their North Atlantic range by ICCAT, which states its management objective is "to achieve the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for each managed species." However, during this period, unrestrained overfishing by most member nations has driven the stock's biomass from the MSY level, which existed prior to 1975, down to between 6 and 12 percent of MSY by 1993. ICCAT has been dominated throughout its history by industrial fishing interests. One need only look at the long-term population trend of the most valuable species it manages - bluefin - to realize its management regime has been one of decimation, not conservation. (In his book entitled "Song for the Blue Ocean," Carl Safina refers to ICCAT as the "International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas." - Ed)

 

ICCAT sets the total allowable catch, after hearing from its scientific advisory committees, which are also dominated by scientists serving industrial fishing interests, and then recommends annual quotas and other measures for each member country participating in the fishery. The U.S. carries out ICCAT recommendations under authority provided by the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act. However, this law also prohibits the federal government and United States fisheries managers from doing anything to prevent domestic commercial fishermen from taking the full quota allocated to the U.S. by ICCAT, even if the stock has been severely overfished. In other words, whatever quota ICCAT sets must be harvested under U.S. law, regardless of stock conditions in the western Atlantic. Considering ICCAT's makeup and the manner in which U.S. law ties the hands of concerned fisheries managers in the United States, it's no wonder the stocks of all the Atlantic highly migratory species (tunas, marlin, swordfish and sailfish) it purports to "conserve and manage" are all near or headed toward extinction.

 

NMFS dutifully assigns portions of the U.S. annual quota of bluefin to categories (e.g., general, harpoon, purse seine, angling, and incidental) according to their previous participation history, and issues permits. Within the categories, seasons are established and no fishing days are implemented for the general category (commercial handline/rod and reel) to spread out the season. In 1998, NMFS allocated 60 percent of the general category quota for the June through August season, 30 percent for September, and 10 percent for October.

 

What Can We Do to Protect Bluefin Tuna?

 

If there is ever to be a resurgence of a healthy population and a real sport fishery for bluefin, those who care about this magnificent species need to ask key members of Congress to demand that the Administration take the actions that are needed (domestically and internationally) to rebuild overfished populations as quickly as possible. This is actually required by the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, yet NMFS seems bent on ignoring or circumventing the intent of that law. Moreover, at its November 1998 annual meeting, ICCAT decided not to decrease the kill of bluefin but, incredibly, to increase the harvest quota. It "justified" this by cutting in half the MSY recovery standard which has stood for the past 23 years. MSY had been set at the population level that existed in the mid-1970s. In my view, the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population is on the brink of extinction, and is being held there by fishing pressure allowed under ICCAT quotas - harvest quotas allowed ostensibly for "scientific monitoring" purposes only. The population should be rebuilt for the benefit of all - the public as well as recreational and commercial fishermen.

 

However' rebuilding the population to a healthy level will require drastic, across-the-board conservation measures immediately:

 

1) The U.S. should demand substantial ICCAT quota cuts or quotas should be reduced or eliminated. This will allow a recovery to healthy levels, as objectively determined by unbiased scientific assessment, as rapidly as is biologically possible.

 

2) The U.S. should seek removal of commercial bias from ICCAT's scientific decision-making and from NMFS' leadership. Both organizations are dominated by commercial industrial fishing pressures! Spawning and nursery areas should be closed to fishing by any and all non-selective gear types that are likely to result in any substantial bluefin mortality in the pursuit of other species.

 

3) To protect spawning size bluefin, breakaway leaders and circle hooks, which eliminate gut hooking of fish, should be mandated for use by the longline industry.

 

4) Aerial stock surveys should replace the current mortality-based "scientific monitoring" quota.

 

5) Only catch-and-release sport fishing should be allowed and careful, non-damaging, tagging of those fish should be encouraged. North Carolina's valuable winter sport fishery provides a perfect example of the economic benefit derived from a fishery that, until recently, allowed no fish to be harvested in the name of conservation.

 

6) Any U.S. commercial fishery producing significant intentional mortality should be shut down until recovery is assured. Commercial trade in bluefin by U.S. dealers should cease. No one should be killing bluefin for any reason until the population recovers to the biomass levels which existed in the 1960s! Organizations Leading the Fight for Conservation.

 

The groups leading the effort for stronger conservation include the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, and the Ocean Wildlife Campaign. Join them, provide monetary support, and rail at your members of Congress, particularly if they are on either the authorizing or the appropriations committee of either the Senate or House. Two of Congress' most ardent supporters of marine fish conservation are Jim Saxton (R) and Frank Pallone (D) of New Jersey. They are also key House leaders and senior members of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Oceans and Wildlife. They need to hear that you support the U.S. taking stronger conservation actions internationally and domestically. You can talk to officials at NMFS if you want, but they won't do anything substantial unless directed by Congress or the Administration. Believe me, I know because I worked at NMFS' headquarters for 20 years. This is a political problem requiring a political solution. Public pressure from you, me and members of the conservation and environmental communities is the only thing that will make a difference. Learn more, get involved help save these magnificent animals. National Coalition for Marine Conservation, 3 North King Street, Leesburg, VA 20176 (703) 777-0037 Recreational Fishing Alliance, P.O. Box 308, New Gretna, NJ 08224 (888) 564-6732 Ocean Wildlife Campaign, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20006 (202) 861-2242.

 

So You Want to Fight a Tuna? Gloucester Area Charter Captains, Marina and Motels The bluefin tuna charter fleet is centered in Gloucester, MA. My advice is to book a charter of at least three days with one of the best captains. Charter fees for bluefin run about $1,000 per day.

 

Dock space for your vessel can be arranged by the Cape Ann Marina. Rockport boasts a number of good motels. Fine restaurants can be found throughout the Cape Ann area.