Bluefin Tuna Fishing
We fish tuna during the months of August through November this mostly depends upon whether or not quota allocated by DFO has been caught/filled. The Bluefin Tuna fishery in Atlantic Canada is the most heavily regulated fishery in the world. We fish using rod and reel.
After lobster fishing season is over (June 30th), we begin preparing for the tuna fishing season... maintaining and upgrading our boats and gear and keeping abreast of the continually changing rules and regulations regarding the tuna fishery. Our fishing reels are sent away each winter for maintenance and repair (if needed)... these are very heavy duty reels and are very important in our work. The Bluefin tuna is a very large fish weighing upwards to 1600 lbs (some believe there are much larger fish in the ocean). Some fishermen have been known to "hook up" with a bluefin tuna and 'fight' the fish for over 13 hours... that's a long time to be on a fish... very tiring. We have never had a fish on that long but we have been on fish for several hours in the past... it is not a very easy job! These huge fish are amazingly powerful and fast. They can exceed speeds over 35 mph (one scientist had registered a large fish at over 50 mph... that's incredible). They are also incrediblly smart fish... many times when fishermen "hook up" with a bluefin they end up losing the fish... the fish spit the hook... the fish ran under/around the boat and cut the line... the fish ran to a bouyline or netline and cut the line. It seems that each year that the fish are smarter than the previous year... it becomes more difficult to catch them using the old methods.
There is alot of work involved in gearing up the boat. There are likely as many methods and ideas of which way is the best way as there are captains in the tuna fleet. Mostly each captain gears up their boat in a way which has been successful to them in the past... or if they haven't been successful in recent times, they might try a new approach that has worked for another vessel.
We generally fish the coastal waters off Nova Scotia in specific DFO zones. Each captain who holds a valid tuna fishing license must purchase tags for the area in which they are fishing. Generally the captain must 'hail out' each day (some zones and companies require only a weekly 'hail out'). This 'hail out' consists of calling a monitoring company whose job it is to keep records of all fishing activity. The monitoring company provides a 'hail out' number for the fisherman. The fisherman must record that 'hail out' number in his log book (provided by DFO), along with other information such as... boat name, licence & CFV, date, times, fishing methods, crew info, etc. Immediately upon catching a bluefin the tags are inserted and cliped behind the 7th fin on the tail of the tuna (at sea... a tricky enough job in good weather)... this tag remains with the fish until after it gets to the market. Each fishing zone comes complete with DFO conditions... these are the conditions under which one is allowed to fish in that particular zone, and they must remain with the captain at all times. Upon catching and 'tagging' the tuna the fisherman must report their catch (usually done via cell phone or VHF) to the monitoring company. The monitoring company will request the tag number, time caught, fishing zone caught in, estimated weights, landing port, and estimated time of arrival at the landing port. The captain generally will proceed to the landing port where he will be met by a DFO monitor (who has been alerted by the monitoring company of the fish being landed). When the vessel arrives at port, it is the DFO monitor's job to ensure that all regulations have been followed. The monitor will take the log book report from the captain while the tuna is unloaded and dressed (head/tail/fins removed, gutted and cleaned, spine tapped, hooks/darts removed), cleaned, core body temperature taken, weighed, then immersed in ice slush. These procedings usually attract a fair sized crowd, all trying to see the size and quality of the catch. Included among the sightseers are usually any number of 'buyers', who may be interested in purchasing the fish in the auction that will be held later that day or the following day.
Many fishermen believe that the actual catching and landing of a bluefin tuna is not the hardest part of the catch... it is the auction that many fishermen dread. Even if the fish was caught and handled with extreme care and diligence, it is ultimately up to nature and the markets that will decide how much money a fisherman will get for a fish. If a bad fish was caught... bad in the sense of diseased or in poor health or bad condition (shark bite scars, etc)... then no matter how well the fisherman treats that fish, he will still only get what the fish is worth (unless the buyer makes a mistake... which doesn't happen often).
The other major factor is the markets... if their are a large volume of fish in the market, then the price will reflect this and be lower than if there are fewer fish on the market. The market that most Atlantic Canadian fishermen send their fish to is the overseas Japanese fish market. It may also be the case that there are only a few buyers at the auction and the companies that they represent are not in desperate need of fish... they will bid lower prices.
The bluefin tuna auction is about as bizzare an event as anyone has ever witnessed. The tuna go to auction unless other arrangements have been made previously with the captain and a buyer. The buyers are basically purchasing agents/representatives for large fish companies (Japanese or otherwise). The buyer has certain criteria that they are looking for that will give them a good idea how much the fish will fetch at the market. They have a good idea how much the fish is worth and they also have a very good idea of how much they are willing to purchase the fish for while maintaining a profit for their company. The tuna is taken from the icy slush at sometime prior to the auction and each buyer gets a chance to look the fish over very carefully. It is during this examination that the buyer determines how much they are willing to pay for the fish... what is the maximum amount that they will pay. If there is more than one fish in slush, then each buyer repeats their critical exam on each fish... determining if they are interested in the fish and if so what is the maximum amount they will pay for the fish. Armed with this information the buy then is ready for the auction... a very tense time for the fisherman.
The auction begins by someone bidding upon the fish (assuming that it is a good fish and a buyer wants to buy the fish) in the presence of the captain (the owner of the fish). The bidding begins at a low rate (per pound) and generally keeps going up (so the captain hopes). If it is a good fish and the buyers need a fish for a customer then the bidding begins. It may start at $2.00. The next buyer may say $2.25. The next may say $2.50. It generally starts out very slow and especially painful for the captain who is helplessly observing from the sidelines. If it is a good and 'needed' fish, the bidding continues and the amounts generally start jumping by $.50 then $1.00 perhaps $2.00. When the price gets up over the $15.00 mark or thereabout the captain starts feeling a little more at ease and feels a little less like choking the buyers... the urge to kill subsides somewhat. Generally the buyers who aren't really interested in the fish will drop off before now and it usually boils down to a couple of buyers squaring off against each other for the rights to buy the fish. It is now that they must remember the maximum amount they were willing to pay based upon their prior examination of the fish. If the bidding excedes their estimated 'top price' then they must make a judgement call on whether to bow out or continue. Most would bow out and the highest bidder has THE CHANCE to buy the fish. If the fisherman is not happy with the result of the auction he does not have to sell the fish to the highest bidder. They may opt to send the fish to market on CONSIGNMENT. Consignment simply means that the fisherman in co-operation with a buyer may send the fish to market... but the fisherman incurs all of the expenses... air/freight and handling fees (it is quite expensive). They are taking a risk because the fish may get to the market and only fetch a low price... not enough to even pay for the shipping and handling... thus they would be incurring a loss. It is a big risk and a hard decision to make on the spot... especially when there is a buyer standing in front of you and offering you sure money. Even if it isn't what you exected, it might be better than nothing at all or worse a loss! However, should the fish be shipped on consignment and purchased at a substantially higher price then it will have been worth it! There is a kind of love - hate relationship between buyers and fishermen... let me rephrase that... there is a kind of tolerate - hate relationship between buyers and fishermen! They are seen as a necessary evil and almost every tuna fisherman has felt the sting or feeling of being 'ripped off', gypped, or whatever. Sometimes a fisherman will not even go to the auction... they will go immediately to consignment... or they may have an agreement with a buyer. This is good in one way but it is viewed disfavourly by the other buyers and may come back to haunt the fisherman in the future... but who knows... business is business is what the buyers always say... so you can't have it both ways!
Some years we have good catches, some years we dont we are at the mercy of the sea and the market. Things have changed a lot in the ensuing years in the tuna fishery new technologies, new markets, new fishing methods. It is our hope that the fishery regulates itself and that climate change and pollution can be affected that through proper regulation and enforcement we will have a fishery in the years ahead to pass down to our children.
Come back later and I'll have more tuna fishing information... methods, means, and madness...
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