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Failure to catch and release leads to market saturation

OK, the public holidays are out of the way, schools are winding down and it cannot be that difficult to schedule a weekend afloat. The fish are there, the weather is improving and it is undoubtedly the angling season.

Is it ever! The wahoo may have eased off, but the tuna have really come into their own, reminiscent of the good old days when the light-tackle action set Bermuda apart from the rest of the world. The quality of the fish, combined with the reliable and rather unique method of chumming ensured a measure of success that brought anglers from all over the globe to sample the thrills to be had on the offshore Banks.

Both the blackfin and yellowfin tuna were the source of this success. The blackfin is a hard-battling member of the tuna family, but one which tops out at about 50 pounds, while the yellowfin, locally referred to as Allison tuna or Allisons, grows considerably larger with 200-pounders or thereabouts usually the maximum of the Atlantic version of this species. In the Pacific, they grow to more than 400lb — but that has little bearing on Bermuda fishing.

The key to the success here was the use of tackle suited to these battlers, based on their size. An average blackfin, say 20-odd pounds, can give a great account of itself on 12lb test. Ditto for a 40lb yellowfin on 20 or even 30lb test line.

Then the fly fishermen got on to the bandwagon. Chumming the tuna to the boat where they could be seen as plain as day made the presentation of a fly far easier than blind casting into the blue briny. This remains the case to this day, as evidenced by the week spent here last week by the Bermuda Fly Fishing Invitational group, which returned to the island after a Covid-related hiatus. These specialist anglers took full advantage of the local yellowfin population, managing a number of mostly worthwhile fly catches and registering a quite enjoyable time.

Similarly, many conventional anglers have also done well. Captain Alan Card’s Challenger had a party of four local anglers out at the weekend and following some profitless trolling effort started chumming on the eastern turn of Challenger Bank.

As expected, the fish soon put in an appearance and, much to their demise, learnt that the anglers in question were all competent. In short order, their combined efforts had put 17 prime yellowfin into the fish well, more or less filling it to capacity. As expected at this time of the year, the school-sized tuna were abundant, and it did not take long to accomplish this feat. The smallest fish caught weighed about 30lb and the largest was a hefty 58-pounder. The overall average weight was probably in the mid to upper-30lb range. A great haul and it took very little time.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to these success stories. There is a lot of meat on a tuna and, realistically, not many people want more than a few pounds of fish to either eat fresh or to freeze for the longer term. With most charters, this is not an issue because the people get enough fish for themselves and then the boat claims the rest and takes it to the commercial market.

While tuna, particularly yellowfin, enjoys a robust local market, there is a limit to the amount that the market can absorb. When the tuna are available in numbers, this market is very rapidly saturated. And therein lies a problem. When a fishing party heads out, they expect to catch fish; preferably a lot of fish and to have a good day. But on a really good day, they might catch considerably more than they can use. If the market is already saturated, this doesn’t do the charter operator a whole lot of good, either. Yes, some can be frozen, but that costs money and when the fishing is good, the entire process is likely to be repeated again tomorrow.

Sadly, an export market isn’t really on the cards, either. This has been looked at, but there are two main drawbacks. The first of these is that most international markets prefer larger fish. They do not have to be giants but larger than the average line-caught tuna is here. And then there is the matter of scale: overseas commercial operations deal with fish by the ton and multiples thereof; often tens or even more. Each ton is more than 2,000 pounds of fish and those numbers dwarf the total landings here.

Catching and releasing tuna is not practised to any large extent anywhere and is unlikely to catch on here, so the problem is likely to continue. Of course, sometimes the fish simply are not there or are unwilling, and while this solves one problem, it makes for unhappy anglers.

Later this week there will be an influx of big game-fishing boats. Right now, these are awaiting the conclusion of the Newport Bermuda Race. This will open the availability of berths in the marinas for the cream of the sportfishing fleet that want to be here in advance of the July 4 Blue Marlin World Cup. As July arrives, so does the angling emphasis shift from smaller game to the ultimate pursuit. The blue marlin grows large here and give new meaning to Tight Lines!!!

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Published June 22, 2024 at 7:54 am (Updated June 22, 2024 at 7:47 am)

Failure to catch and release leads to market saturation

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