Wicked Tuna

The American Bluefin Tuna Association

National Geographic’s “Wicked Tuna”: Focuses intently on an issue that is new and important for Americans

Salem NH, April 2, 2012 – National Geographic’s new 10-part series, “Wicked Tuna” premiered last night. It follows the format of the successful Discovery series,

“Deadliest Catch” with one big difference. “Wicked Tuna” brings to light a fishery that few Americans are aware of.

Most Americans have heard of the so-called “plight” of the bluefin tuna. The producers of “Wicked Tuna” suggest instead that the health of bluefin populations are a complex issue. For example, few Americans are aware that in certain parts of the world, in the Mediterranean Sea in particular, bluefin have been overfished by large, factory-style industrial vessels of 200-300 ft in length, but not here in the U.S. As early as the 1970′s Congress created the 200-mile limit law (now called Magnuson-Stevens Act) and negotiated international treaties for highly migratory fish such as giant bluefin. Consequently, large industrial fishing of bluefin was eventually phased out in the U.S. What was left were the small, independently-owned boats seen in “Wicked Tuna”.

“One critically important piece of news that comes out of “Wicked Tuna” that will come as a big surprise for most Americans is the fact that our commercial bluefin fishery here in the U.S., referred to locally as the General and Harpoon Fisheries, is an Artisanal fishery. This fleet of small boats are only allowed to use handgear methods for fishing: rod and reel or harpoon. They can only catch one fish at a time and are limited to catching a maximum of 3 fish per day,” says Rich Ruais, Executive Director of the American Bluefin Tuna Association, an organization that exclusively represents U.S. tuna fishermen in the Atlantic.

Beginning in the 1970′s, U.S. fishermen and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted strong, self-imposed conservation methods to ensure that U.S. bluefin fishing led the world in sustainable fishing practices. NOAA long ago issued regulations, permanently making this commercial fishery an Artisanal fishery. U.S. tuna fishermen want their fishery to remain an Artisanal fishery in perpetuity. The fishermen wish to maintain this fishery as a small fleet of family-owned and operated vessels of approximately 30-42 ft in length. Artisanal fisheries are virtually incapable of causing the damage to a fishery that can easily be done by industrial fishing methods like those used in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ruais comments further, “Americans should be proud that they have an Artisanal fishery for bluefin because it sets an example for other industrialized countries who do not fish sustainably. If those countries want to protect their bluefin populations, they need to radically scale back those large, corporate-owned industrial fishing vessels from their fishery that are capable of catching 500 or more bluefin at a time. These big vessels are the ones that create all the problems for bluefin.”

“Our small boats, under longstanding conservation regulations, cannot possibly do any damage to the Atlantic bluefin. As one of the captains in “Wicked Tuna” accurately stated, our bluefin fishery in the U.S. is the most highly regulated bluefin fishery in the world. Our fishermen are required to adhere to the lowest maximum number of fish that can be retained daily and the highest minimum retainable size of 73 inches. This is unprecedented and unmatched worldwide.”

Last May, after spending a year, countless tax dollars and involving a great many marine scientists and fishery management experts, NOAA concluded a huge study proving that bluefin were not endangered or threatened. Earlier this year, Canadian scientists, based on their own separate comprehensive study, also agreed with the U.S. and went further to note that quotas in the west Atlantic could be safely raised. Nonetheless, quotas have been maintained at extra-precautionary lower levels.

A few environmental organizations would like Americans to think that US bluefin are “imperiled”, but, given NOAA’s and Canada’s latest scientific studies, all those Americans who in the past were given false and incomplete information to sign petitions saying that they won’t eat Atlantic bluefin can now go back to eating Atlantic bluefin tuna sustainably caught by U.S. fishermen.

Although “Wicked Tuna” tends to dramatize the interactions between the fishermen, the dialog is colorful, the fierce competition is typical of Gloucestermen, and the action footage is real. The act of catching bluefin tuna by handgear requires great fishing skill, a high level of seamanship ability and human strength.

The airing of “Wicked Tuna” is the first time ever that the American public will have a glimpse into the little-known world of these hardworking New England fishermen and it explains very well how they do what they do. Ruais concludes, “In ‘Wicked Tuna’, much is made of how much the fish is worth but, in reality, fishermen receive, on average, about $9.00 per lb. for their bluefin catch, which is less than what sea scallop or Alaskan king crab fishermen are often paid for their catch.”


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