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October 25, 2001

Big Small Tuna

Blackfin tina reach only about three feet at full adulthood.

Q: My friend caught a young tuna off Cozumel, Mexico. It's not a yellowfin or a bigeye tuna, and it's not a bonito. I was wondering if it could be a small bluefin, but I didn't think young bluefin ran this far south. Can you help us identify this fish?
- Matt Helvinger, Rochester, New York

A: Sure. It's a blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus), and it's not a young one. Blackfin grow to about 42 pounds and a little over 3 feet, and it looks like this one is nearly full-grown. Blackfin live only in the warm waters of the Western Atlantic, ranging from the Carolinas to Brazil, and are common in the Florida Straits and around the Yucatan Peninsula. The pectoral fins of blackfin are longer than those of bluefin, reaching a point below the second dorsal fin, and blackfin often display a brownish stripe along the upper sides. The key characteristic to identify blackfin, however, is the finlet color. This is the only Atlantic tuna with white-edged, dusky-colored finlets, as all other tunas have some yellow on their finlets.
Blackfin are quite good to eat. When properly bled, the flesh is medium-light, though not as light as that of albacore, yellowfin or bigeye tuna.