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Captain’s Log: Bluefin Tuna Wars Are Over

Big-game fisher Cathy Needleman with 193 lb. bluefin tuna on the boat, Limitless. Click to view larger
Big-game fisher Cathy Needleman with 193 lb. bluefin tuna on the boat, Limitless.   (Capt. David Bacon)

We’ve been engaged in the Bluefin Tuna Wars for years now — angler conservationists pitted against radical protectionists for the ear of the fisheries managers.

The ringing of crossed words rang loudly at committees, commissions and councils along the West Coast and in the halls of federal fisheries managers in the Washington, D.C., area.

The conservation community believes in managing for sustainability, and the preservationist community believes in shutting down fishing, hunting and other consumptive activities.

Elderly anglers (I’m included in that group) know that abundance of individual species in a specific geographic area come and go according to numerous factors including patterns of water temp fluctuations, food sources and numerous other changes which sometimes have long-term and very slow changes.

Bluefin are one species that come and go in terms of abundance, and they always have, according to real old-timers who have monitored them for nearly a century, and according to records, longer than that. For some years recently, the local catch counts were somewhat low.

Now, bluefin appear to be back in abundance. Were they ever really not abundant? No, but preservationists who want to shut down our fisheries don’t seem (to me) to accurately grasp the concept of abundance versus availability.

If major schools of bluefin are off feeding in the western Pacific, they may be abundant but not available to us here in the eastern Pacific. On the other hand, when they are available to us here locally, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are abundant.

That’s why we need good stock assessments and monitoring, and why we need smart fisheries managers like the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries cleared up the questions about bluefin tuna in a resounding manner in its newsletter FishNews dated Aug. 9, writing:

“Pacific Bluefin Tuna Listing Not Warranted. NOAA Fisheries conducted a formal status review of pacific bluefin tuna and determined that listing under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted at this time.

"The United States is committed to sustainable, science-based management of Pacific bluefin tuna, which requires a balance of international and domestic management.”

I was on charter on my boat, WaveWalker (www.wavewalker.com) in mid-August when an informative message was put out on VHF Channel 16 by the federal fisheries managers, letting commercial fishers know the Pacific bluefin quota had been reached and the commercial fishery was being shut down for the remainder of the year.

The message also said any Pacific bluefin tuna already caught, when landed would be applied against next year’s quota. The fisheries managers are really watching the fishery closely and adapting rapidly.

The Bluefin Tuna Wars are over — for now at least.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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