Landings begin

Rods, reels, boats and gear line the Beaufort town docks on Tuesday as the bluefin tuna fishermen are back for another season. (Dylan Ray photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — Bluefin tuna season is here again, traditionally running from November through March, sometimes into April, and there have already been landings in Carteret County, as well as some anecdotal reports of the prized commercial fish showing up off the Outer Banks. 

Bluefin tuna are a sought-after commercial finfish for sushi, and individual fish can sell for several thousand dollars on the international market. Matt Frost, owner and operator of Homer Smith Seafood in Beaufort, said as of Wednesday he’s had about 6,100 pounds of bluefin tuna landed at his fish house. 

“I’ve had about 20 fish this year (so far),” he said. “My first was Nov. 18. They’re pretty much right off our beach, within 3-15 miles.” 

While the bluefin tuna mean a good profit for those who catch them, Mr. Frost said he’s still not sure if this will be a good tuna season. 

“In a really good season, you’d see 10-20 fish a day,” he said. “Only about eight to 10 percent of the boats fishing (for bluefin tuna) have caught a fish yet.” 

Carteret County isn’t the only area where the tuna are showing up. Brad McHale, branch chief of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s highly migratory species division, said Dec. 7 his division has heard from commercial fishermen in North Carolina that bluefin tuna have been spotted off the state coast, in particular near Southport. 

This tuna season, North Carolina fishermen and others along the Atlantic Coast will get a slightly larger quota to harvest from, thanks to an increase in the U.S. quota from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the international fishery organization responsible for managing tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Mr. McHale says it’s a good sign that bluefin tuna have been spotted recently off the Outer Banks. 

“It means the fish are showing up earlier than in previous years,” he said. Mr. McHale said he expects the tuna season will make a “seamless transition” from one calendar year to the next. 

North Carolina watermen, along with other commercial fishermen along the Atlantic coast, will have a three-tuna retention limit per vessel, per day. This is the same limit they had for the last tuna season. Mr. McHale said his division expects there will be 41 metric tons of tuna available for the January through March period, also the same amount as the previous January through March period. 

“In fact, it may be slightly increased,” he said. “The U.S. bluefin tuna quota increased from ICCAT.” 

ICCAT met for its 24th regular meeting Nov. 10-17 in Malta. During the meeting, the commission set the U.S. bluefin tuna quota at 1,059 metric tons; up 135 metric tons from the previous quota of 924.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are divided into two stocks; the smaller western stock and the larger eastern stock, though the two are known to co-mingle. The U.S. fishes from the western stock, as does Canada, Japan and Mexico. Mediterranean countries fish from the eastern stock. 

More information on bluefin tuna is available online at the NMFS fisheries FishWatch website fishwatch.gov

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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