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July 08, 2011

Back to Bluefin

Science is giving anglers new opportunities to catch and release monsters in the famed giant-tuna grounds of the Canadian Maritimes

Can Bluefin Stocks Support Catch-And-Release Fishing?
The more that’s learned about bluefin tuna, the more that scientists realize they don’t know. For example, Lutcavage’s team tagged juvenile bluefin off the Carolinas and Virginia, and Dr. Haritz Arrizabagala’s team tagged bluefin of similar size off the north coast of Spain. Both stocks ended up feeding in the same waters south of the Grand Banks. This challenges the long-held notion that eastern and western Atlantic stocks — and particularly juvenile fish — seldom mix. “Satellite tags tell us where the fish are beyond where the fleet is operating,” Lutcavage says.

Much scientific data on bluefin tuna is based on commercial-fishing statistics. Yet this data is often skewed by economics. Before each commercial-fishing trip, Capt. Jacquard must notify Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “When I hail out for a seven- or 10-day swordfish trip, I’ll also hail out for tuna. If it’s a slow trip for swordfish, we might take a few tuna to fill in,” Jacquard says. “The scientists see a 10-day trip with two tuna, or no tuna if swordfishing was good, when we targeted tuna for an hour, four hours, maybe even just 10 minutes.”

Lutcavage questions current bluefin stock assessments based on data obtained through commercial-fishing catches. “From spotter planes, we see very large surface biomasses of fish in the Gulf of Maine, even on days when fishermen are not landing fish,” she says. Her team has developed aerial survey techniques combined with simultaneous side-scan sonar images of a school to accurately estimate both the size of the school and the size of the fish within it. “There is evidence of large numbers of fish, both giants and juveniles, in the northwest Atlantic.” Assuming compliance with ICCAT management objectives, Lutcavage says, “We’re confident in saying we don’t think bluefin tuna are on the edge of extinction.”

Moving Forward
Lutcavage’s research is helping to prove the value of catch-and-release bluefin charters, which is helping fishermen. Gauthier is hoping to use a portion of PEI’s charter-association funds to buy some of the more than 300 commercial-tuna licenses on the island that the steadily shrinking commercial quota won’t support. Based on early success in PEI, Jacquard feels he is finally close to cutting through government red tape to begin a viable charter industry in southwest Nova Scotia.

Lutcavage is collecting data independent from ­commercial fisheries. Ironically, she does so by teaming up with commercial and recreational fishermen. “Early bluefin researchers always worked with fishermen, both commercial and recreational. Getting away from that led us to depend more on catch statistics and less on biology,” Lutcavage says. “Now we’re coming back to it.”

Morris appreciates just being out there as part of nature, among whales and seals, and with the chance of releasing a huge tuna. He battled a true giant and won, but then let it go. “It’s a neat thing to see that fish swim off like that, especially with that tag in it,” Morris says.

Visiting PEI and Nova Scotia

Prince Edward Island’s rolling green hills, red-sand beaches and the warm water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence attract summertime family vacationers. The island is shaped like a crooked smile spanning 175 miles from tip to tip. Tuna charters depart from several harbors along the north coast, so inquire about nearby accommodations while planning a trip.

Charlottetown is the birthplace of Canadian independence on July 1, 1867 — called Confederation. Much of its downtown dates back to British colonial days. Check out Victoria Row for dining. Summerside doesn’t have the rich history and isn’t quite as upscale, but it’s much closer to the majority of charters while still offering city amenities. The villages of North Rustico and Cavendish, both about in the middle of the north coast, are closest to fishing. Each has a few good restaurants as well as cottages to rent and inns.

Delta offers two-and-a-half-hour flights from New York City directly to Charlottetown Airport. PEI is about a 10-hour drive from Boston on interstate highways and across an eight-mile-long toll bridge.

Nova Scotia’s rocky southwestern coast is beautiful, but sees fewer tourists than PEI. The closest accommodations, in Yarmouth, are 20 minutes from Wedgeport by car. Yarmouth has lost a bit of luster since the heyday of the Tuna Tournament. The upscale Trout Point Lodge is about 45 minutes north of Wedgeport.

Halifax is the largest city in the region, with lots to do along a half-mile section of the city’s waterfront. If making the four-hour drive to Wedgeport to visit the Tuna Museum, consider stopping in Lunenburg, Chester or Shelburne along the way.

Halifax airport is two hours from New York by air. The drive From Boston is seven hours to Saint John, and then a three-hour ferry ride across the Bay of Fundy, and another two-and-a-half-hour drive to either Wedgeport or Halifax.


Prince Edward Island (

Prince Edward Island Tuna Charter Boat Association;
    (under construction at press time)
Joey or Jamie Gauthier;
Ewen Clark, contact through charter association website

Loyalist Lakeview Resort, 902-436-3333;
Delta Prince Edward, 902-566-2222;
Rodd Charlottetown, 902-894-7371;
(Rodd offers several resorts on PEI.)
North Coast
Chalets on the Clyde cottages, 866-963-3838;
Blue Crest Cottages, 800-852-6656;
For rental properties islandwide, check

Nova Scotia (

Halifax International Tuna Tournament, 902-830-7727;
Zappa Charters, Dale Trenholm, 902-386-2669;
For charter information for either tournament, contact Gwen or Kathy at the Wedgeport Sport Tuna Fishing Museum; 902-663-4345,

Northeast Nova Scotia
Rodd Grand Yarmouth Hotel, 902-742-2446;
Trout Point Lodge, 902-482-8360;
Delta Halifax Hotel, 902-425-6700;
Charter prices begin around $1,000 for a 10-hour day, though boats might come in early with the one-fish limit. Boats with chairs charge more; typically $2,000 to $3,000 per day, with all-inclusive packages, including airport and daily transportation, lodging and all meals.