Dec 14, 2011

For North Carolina fishermen keeping watch for the bluefin tuna, there will be a longer season to make their catch.

The National Marine Fisheries has filed a final rule that extends the bluefin tuna season and gives commercial fishermen more opportunity to harvest the highly valuable fish this winter.

Capt. Sonny Davis of Capt. Stacy Fishing Center in Atlantic Beach said the bluefin tuna is unpredictable in its migration; and fishermen never know for sure when they’ll arrive and when they do, it’s not for long.

If the season’s not long enough, he said, North Carolina fishermen lose out on an opportunity.

Last year, the season closed in January just as the bluefin were arriving.

“Last year the fish showed up around Hatteras the last three days of the season,” he said.

The new rule, which takes effect Dec. 30, will allow the bluefin tuna season for general category permit holders to remain open through March 31 or until the full January sub-quota is caught.

Under current rules, the season closes on Jan. 31 regardless of whether the January sub-quota is fully harvested.

The rule also increases the maximum daily retention from three fish to five.


In the face of regulations that have restricted fishing on other species, Davis said that the rule is a little bit of a help for fishermen.

“Anything like that is good news and helps you out a little bit,” Davis said.

U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-3rd District, who has worked on the issue for several years, issued a news release applauding the rule filed Nov. 29.

“This is a good day for North Carolina tuna fishermen. We’ve worked on this issue for a long time, and today’s action will help provide an economic boost to North Carolina fishing communities during the winter,” Jones stated.

Bluefin tuna migrate south over the winter months and the North Carolina season traditionally begins in December; but depending on the weather and the unpredictable nature of the bluefin tuna, it can be well into January before they appear off North Carolina’s coast.

Eric Forsberg, a commercial fisherman and manager of Blue Ocean Fish Market in Morehead City, said that it’s still a little early in the season, especially with the warm weather. Still, they are counting on a good season after last year’s late showing.

“They should be here soon, and I’m hoping we have a long season due to the extension,” he said.

Forsberg said government regulations have hurt fishermen and a good tuna season could help make up for fishing seasons they’ve lost with other species. While prices vary, a single catch of the giant bluefin tuna can bring thousands of dollars.

“If we have a good year that will be great,” he said.

Bluefin tuna is a sushi fish and it goes primarily to Japan.