Big Bluefin Tuna From The Air

August 25, 2009

Epic video of large, wild giant bluefin tuna schooling in Cape Cod Bay along with whales and other fish, taken from a spotter plane and harpoon boat. Thanks to Ralph Pratt, Executive Director of the American Bluefin Tuna Association, who is also a pilot, Captain and father for inviting my brother and I up to Marshfield Massachusetts for a day aboard their harpoon boat and spotter plane.

The area around Stellwagen Bank out to 50 miles or so is alive with bluefin tuna anywhere from 50 to 800 pounds. The tuna are often feeding alongside the many pods of whales as well as vast shoals of striped bass and the ever present dogfish. What is holding this marine theater together is a huge bio mass of sand eels. You can feel the happiness of the marine life here as they gorge themselves, then spend time frolicking on the surface to digest and relax. We spent most of the day aboard Michael Pratt’s (Ralph’s son) F/V “LISA MARIE.” It’s a typical bluefin tuna harpoon boat with a super elongated bow pulpit for spotting tuna and throwing the harpoon. With Father Ralph in the spotter plane, Michael on the pulpit holding the harpoon and mate Jeff at the wheel, the operation was an impressive display of communication and coordination. With instructions coming over the encrypted radio signal from the plane, the boat is often steaming full ahead heaving into the waves, making evasive turns to locate the schooling bluefin. However, the boat can’t just harpoon any bluefin as there is a minimum size of 73 inches for the harpoon category. This is the size of ~300lb. tuna so the harpoon boats are only after giants. Because of this restriction many times Captain Michael will not throw the harpoon for fear that the tuna may be too small. As you see in the video, although Captain Michael had the opportunity to throw the harpoon several times, his judgment deemed the tuna slightly under the minimum size, as a result the harpoon went back into the holder. Many people’s first reaction to harpoon fishing conjures up thoughts around some ancient barbaric traditions. But the harpoon industry is actually quite the opposite. The great advantage harpooners have over most other types of commercial fishing is the ability to select an individual tuna to harvest. Compare this method with how a tuna purse seiner or long liner harvests vast amounts of tuna with little control over what size tuna are killed or retained and you can see the difference. Another aspect of harpoon fishing that sets it apart from other methods is the notion that individuals from a school may be taken, but not the entire school itself. Taking one giant from a pod is different that taking the entire pod. The Pratt’s are dedicated to ensuring a future with bluefin tuna as I look forward to working with Ralph, Michael and Jeff in the future.

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