Carolina watermen hoping for a share of the winter bluefin tuna quota
By CATHERINE KOZAK
tuna have been plentiful during February in recent years off North
Carolina. But unfortunately for Outer Banks watermen, the commercial
season has been over at the end of January.
This winter may be different.
pending rule change in the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery is expected to
extend the season to allow more of the quota to be caught off the
“Two years we’ve been waiting for
this,” said Charlie Pereira, a Hatteras Island fisherman and president
of the Winter Bluefin Association.
Periera said that since
1996, he has been working to help get southern fishermen a fair share
of the quota for the lucrative fish, which have mostly been caught by
northern fishermen before the tuna had a chance to migrate south.
the early 2000s, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally
dedicated a portion of the quota for the winter fishery, when it is
active off North Carolina.
“Since the beginning of time,” Periera said, “the New England people
have said, ‘It’s our fish.’”
fisheries service hopes to publish the final rule by the beginning of
North Carolina’s season, said Sarah McLaughlin, National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration fishery management specialist. NOAA first
sought input on revising the regulation in 2009.
has been proposed that the quota extension would stretch from February
through the end of May, McLaughlin said the time will be likely
shortened in the final version.
“We all anticipate that the North Carolina winter fishery,” she said,
“will probably be a matter of weeks, and maybe a month.”
much of the 2011 Atlantic bluefin tuna base quota ---435.1 metric tons
--- already depleted , on Nov. 6 another 50 metric tons was moved to
the general category from the reserve quota, “to ensure that the winter
fishery would operate as intended,” McLaughlin said.
the same time, the retention limit for the bluefin commercial fishery
was decreased from three to two large-medium or giant (73-inch or
greater) per vessel per day/trip.
Pereira said that bluefin
typically don’t show up off North Carolina’s coast until after
Thanksgiving. In the last two or three winters, the fishing has been at
its height in February, after the season closed on Jan 31. So whatever
quota remained uncaught was lost.
The January sub-quota for
the Atlantic bluefin fishery is 23.1 metric tons, or 5.3 percent; for
September, 115.3 metric tons, or 26.5 percent; for October-November,
56.6 metric tons, or 13 percent; and for December, 22.6 metric tons, or
5.2 percent of the total 2011 base quota.
U.S. Rep. Walter B.
Jones, a North Carolina Republican, has been advocating for the revised
rule as a matter of fairness in sharing the quota, said Joshua Bowlen,
Jones’ legislative director.
But Bowlen said the longer season is just a “small step” in addressing
the larger issue.
“The congressman believes that North Carolina should have equitable
access to the full January quota,” he said.
2004, U.S. fishermen have been catching tons less of the Atlantic
bluefin stock than the amount allocated by the International Commission
for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Fisheries biologists who have
studied bluefin tuna say that the species’ stocks in the Eastern
Atlantic and Mediterranean are being overfished, in turn depleting
stocks in the Western Atlantic.
Efforts by an American
delegation of about 30 scientists and policy makers to impose a 3-
to-5-year moratorium on fishing the Eastern stock were turned down at a
2007 ICCAT meeting in Turkey.
Fishing for bluefin off Hatteras
is a shadow of what it was in the 1990s, when watermen and anglers
caught thousands of 300-pound-plus fish, earning $10,000 to $40,000 per
fish. The last red-hot season was in 2002, but Pereira said
there’s still plenty of bluefin to be had, mostly off the coast south
Pereira, who owns Orange Blossom Bakery in
Buxton, said that on a good day, there might be about 200-300 boats
fishing for bluefin off Morehead City. But Hatteras is down to about 10
to 20 boats, he said, mainly because of fuel costs used in looking for
“They haven’t shown up off Hatteras in any good numbers in five or six
years,” he said.
of the tuna that’s caught -- typically 100 pounds to 400 pounds -- is
sold to bluefin-specific dealers, he said, either outright at the dock
or on consignment to the dealer.
Depending on the
quality of the fish and the market value, the fish can mean a very
handsome profit for a day’s work. Pereira said he has earned at least
$10 a pound and as much as almost $27 a pound. Prices now, he said, are
averaging $8 to $15 a pound, but likely will go up into the winter.
has a theory about why bluefin aren’t arriving off Hatteras like they
once did, but Pereira said he believes that overfishing of menhaden and
herring, as well as storm damage to artificial reefs, has left less to
attract the migratory fish.
“Fishermen have their educated, and uneducated, guesses where they
are,” he said.
“Bluefin are only going to come to an area and stay in an area where
there’s a lot of bait fish.”
fishermen have seen so many bluefin this year, Pereira said, that
they’ve caught their quota in a couple of days. And North
Carolina fishermen are looking forward to the same opportunity with
their quota share.
“If those numbers are up like they were last year,” he said, “we’ll be
able to catch that 5.2 percent in one week, or less.”