Jamie Pollock over at the Pew Charitable Trusts sent me an email last week looking for people who are able to make it to a meeting on December 3 in Toms River, New Jersey, regarding the health and sustainability of bluefin tuna fishing. I know tuna are out of most of our range from the shores of NYC, but there’s plenty of opportunities to catch these awesome fish nearby, and of course, they’re found more commonly in most sushi restaurants in the city. This is (or was) my usual encounter with bluefin tuna, and it is delicious and, in my opinion, worth the $20/piece pricetag, or whatever it is now. The dilemma for me is how to balance this consumer interest in bluefin tuna with the knowledge that these fish, as they are currently hunted, are far from sustainable and/or a farm-able resource. Their life cycle and nature really just do not lend itself to making it a kind of resource like salmon, but the price and demand is so high that there will always be a market. It’s sad to see, even when watching these guys on that fishing show eke out a living catching bluefin tuna by rod and line to make a life for themselves, it still hurts me to see it happening. The cynic in me says this can only end one way.
The meeting Pew is holding regards not the elimination of bluefin tuna fishing (which I think wouldn’t be unreasonable, except to the Japanese, maybe), but rather the consideration of a different type of longline that helps reduce bycatch of other fish. These two methods, alternatives to surface longlines, are known as the greenstick and swordfish buoy gear. According to researchers Researchers with the Florida-based Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, these types of gear were able to obtain 93 percent tuna catch rate (greenstick) and 82 percent targeted swordfish rate (swordfish buoy) respectively. The way they work goes like this:
“Greenstick gear consists of a 35- to 45-foot fiberglass pole that tows a 500- to 800-foot main line. The original poles were green in color, hence the name. Up to 10 artificial squid lures are individually attached to this main line and skipped across the surface of the water to attract yellowfin tuna. Once a fish is hooked, fishermen quickly bring it to the boat so that they can release any unintentional catch immediately while still alive. Because of the way the gear was developed, tuna accounts for the vast majority of greenstick catch.
Swordfish buoy gear consists of a single piece of heavy fishing line attached to one or two baited hooks on one end and a flotation device, or buoy, equipped with a light on the other end. Generally, one vessel will use 12 to 15 of these free-floating gears at a time. The buoys, which are deployed at dusk, are set in a straight line. When a fish takes the bait, it drags the buoy out of line, indicating that it has been hooked, so the fisherman can quickly retrieve the fish and make a decision to retain or release it.”
The meeting is again in Toms River, which makes it tough for me to make it with work and all, but if anyone can pass the word along to any friends who might be in the area and can make the meeting, then we urge you to do so. For more info check this link for a pdf fact sheet on bluefin tuna, or email Jamie at jamielynnpollack(at)gmail.com