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GIANT TUNA
TOURNAMENTS:
A FISHING LEGACY

By Capt. Bob Humphrey

  Editor’s note: Capt. Bob Humphrey is a member of the NOAA Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel and the director of the Casco Bay Bluefin Bonanza.

  The year is 1938. Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” causes mass panic. The RMS Queen Mary breaks the record for the fastest passenger liner to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Howard Hughes breaks the around-the-world flight record traveling 14,672 miles in 3 days, 19 hours and 17 minutes. Superman makes his first appearance in Action Comics No. 1. German troops invade Austria.
  Meanwhile on Bailey Island in Maine, locals are preparing to compete in the first bluefin tuna fishing tournament in the United States, unaware that a devastating hurricane looms just weeks away. The air is filled with the hum of gasoline and diesel engines and the smell of their exhaust. Straight-butt fiberglass rods fitted with Dacron line and cat gut leaders fill rod holders on either side of fighting chairs. Frozen mackerel are meticulously tied onto handmade daisy chains. The starting gun goes off and the boats make their way to sea, laying the groundwork for a fishing legacy to follow.
  Fishing tournaments for giant bluefin tuna have a long and colorful history that began in New England, and eventually spread south along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and north to Canada. They began even before TV of the era consisted of newsreels from the war in Europe and Asia. Today the tournaments number in the hundreds, and in addition to providing friendly competition and a chance for lucky anglers to earn prize money, they provide tremendous social and economic benefit to their respective communities.
  Despite this, there are some who would like to see them go away.
Surprisingly, the objection does not come from anti-fishing factions erroneously crusading to save a very robust resource from extinction; it comes from a small faction within the fishery itself. Their contention is tournaments encourage greater participation in the fishery, which results in higher landings and shorter periods of fishing opportunity. “They’re taking our fish,” is a common lament. Let’s take a look at the facts and see if their argument holds water.

  GIANT BLUEFIN REGULATIONS
  Current regulations allow anglers permitted in the General Category or Charter/Headboat Category with Commercial endorsement to harvest a quota of 710.7 metric tons (mt). This baseline quota is divided among five sub-quota periods: January-March (37.7 mt), June-August (355.4 mt), September (188.3 mt), October-November (92.4 mt) and December (37.0 mt). Once the sub-quota is landed for a specific period, the fishery closes until the next period.

Fishing tournaments for giant bluefin tuna have a long and colorful history that began in New England, and eventually spread south along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and north to Canada.
Fishing tournaments for giant bluefin tuna have a long and colorful history that began in New England, and eventually spread south along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and north to Canada.
Many of the competitors in giant bluefin tournaments fish commercially for the giants and know how to properly care for the meat.
Many of the competitors in giant bluefin tournaments fish commercially for the giants and know how to properly care for the meat.

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