Current Waters: Tuna Time
Capt. Carl Bois •
It is the heart of summer now and things are changing up. The full moon has energized things a bit. Stripers are more available than this past week. However, you’ve heard me talk about warmer waters before. As this heat continues, it will make the stripers move to deeper, cooler water.
Bluefish are still holding strong around Great Point especially. These are great fighting fish and such a Nantucket tradition. A friend recently dropped off some bluefish he smoked himself which is really the best way to enjoy bluefish, other than when my wife tosses it on the grill.
Fluke are being caught, but not in great abundance.
Since the tuna bite is still strong, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about the different tuna regulations and what’s allowed. As with most things in the water, the fishery is regulated to ensure the stability of the population and that there will be a fishery in the future. Some fish are regulated by the state, but for highly migratory species, like tuna and shark , they are regulated at the federal level by NOAA.
For our fishery in general, it’s not always a straightforward “yes” or “no” about what species you can and cannot target. There are limitations on size and numbers, days of the week, seasons, and even gear restrictions. For species like our bluefin tuna, the catch has to be reported on the day of landing for commercial and recreational.
Bluefin tuna is the largest of the tuna species and can be found around the world. They are large, torpedo-shaped fish that cover long distances during their annual migrations. In the US, bluefin tuna can be found on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Offshore from Massachusetts, the ocean floor drops around deep ledges and banks which are feeding grounds for bluefin tuna. This area has a high population of bluefin tuna as well as some of the largest. Since the late 1940s, Massachusetts has been one of the top states for commercial landings of bluefin tuna.
The tuna season generally runs from June into November but will close earlier if the annual quota is met. Bluefin tuna bag limits vary by permit, vessel type, fish size, and region. The Massachusetts bag limits for bluefin tuna are managed federally by NOAA and are restricted to 2-3 bluefin between 27” - 47” per boat per day depending on the type of license and 1 tuna between 47” -73” per boat per day. Please note all regulation and current size limits and possession limits should be consulted.
Often you see people bragging about “giants” which are in the bigger range. These are the fish people sell into the global tuna market. The smaller, sometimes called “football” tuna in that lower size range, is often kept by the angler. This is the size caught where you might be lucky enough to get a tuna steak from a fishy friend or be invited to a tuna dinner.
In the charter business, people hire us for tuna trips knowing that they may not get to keep the giant if they land one. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the effort to land the fish, and the memories that they are fishing for on those days.
How do we fish for tuna? We catch bluefin tuna by trolling with rigged natural baits, such as ballyhoo and mackerel or artificial bait imitating squid, half beaks, and mackerel to name a few. For the smaller, football bluefin tuna, anglers will downsize the gear, increase the troll speed and use various colored lures to attract schooling tuna. Everyone has their favorite colors, sizes, and presentation – but the tuna can change their tastes at will. It pays to know someone with experience.
If you’re interested in attempting some tuna fishing, first check out the NOAA website for recreational anglers. There are specific permits for the highly migratory species like tuna and swordfish. This link also has where to report landings. Alternatively, you can book a tuna trip with one of your local charter captains and take a lot of the guesswork, gear, and permitting out of your mind so you can focus on reeling in your next sushi plate!