WhenÂ an offshore angler sees that familiar silver and black color in the water columnÂ â€” the kind of color that indicates a blackfin tuna is on the other end of the lineÂ â€” it’s pretty much smiles all around.
“Get the gaff!” is often shouted by he who sees it first.
The chunky football-sized and shaped sushi is promptly placed on ice in the fish box.Â They certainly are good eating. Never pass up a blackfin tuna steak or a chance to sample a fresh slice of sushi.
Along much of Florida’s coastline, blackfin tuna are considered an incidental catch by recreational anglers. They are often caught when anglers are using techniques designed target dolphin (mahi mahi) or sailfish. Sometimes blackfin tuna can be encountered in large schools feeding in a frenzy as they corral a pod of bait fish like sardines or tinker mackerel near the surface. A couple of well-cast popper plugs or small spoons will generally result in hookups of the fast-swimming bullet-shaped blackfins.
Until recently, blackfin tuna were thought to be one of those species of bluewater fish no one ever had to worry about. It seemed as if there would be an unending supply of sushi, sashimi and pan-seared ginger, soy and sesame crusted tuna steaks.Â
But declining catches in spots where theÂ fish is typically caught in large numbers hasÂ some recreational anglers and charter boat captains concerned. While blackfin tuna can be encountered in all of Florida’s offshore waters, there has been an observed drop-off of catches in the Florida Keys and offshore of Miami, according to staff with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state’s rule-making body for saltwater fishing regulations.
As a result, the FWC is presently hosting a series of workshops to receive comments from anglers about the status of blackfin tuna. After collecting comments, FWC staff will present its findings to the 7-member governor-appointed commission most likely in mid-July when the commission meets in Stuart.Â Â Â Â
Until any changes are made, blackfin tuna are currently regulated by Floridaâ€™s default recreational bag limit of 100 pounds or two fish per day, whichever is greater, in state waters. There is no existing size limit.Â I’ve even seen photos of some no larger than my hand someone kept once, which may have been legal, but perhaps not ethical.Â There are no regulations for blackfin tuna in federal waters.
Blackfin tuna are one of the smaller species of the tuna family, the smallest, in fact of the “true tunas.” They are not like their gigantic 1,000-pound bluefin tuna cousins, or even the yellowfin tuna which can grow to 400 pounds. They are similar to skipjack tuna and false albacore, or what is most commonly called bonito in Florida waters, and a big one might weigh in at close to 20 pounds. Often, these species can be found together mixed in schools as they feed on smaller fish.
Most caught are probably within the 12-15 pound range. The Florida state record blackfin tuna was a whopperÂ â€” 45 pounds, 8 ounces, caught May 4, 1996 by Sam J. Burnett off Key West.
Their distribution ranges from Massachusetts to Brazil, but unlike the bluefin tuna, they do not engage in long migratory journeys and never cross the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, there has been some scientific research which suggests there is not much movement by blackfin tunaÂ between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic, unlike king mackerel and cobia.
What is interesting, according to FWC data, recreational anglers are responsible for 95-98 percent of the harvest of blackfin tuna stocks. Most directed trips yield 2-3 blackfin tuna catches.Â
The FWC does a great job of managing dozens of species of fish and wildlife in one of the nation’s most populated states. It’s process is to involve those who have a stake in what they enjoy fishing and hunting for.
What would blackfin tuna regulations look like? There could be a bag limit of one or two fish. There could be a size limit of a minimum of 20 orÂ 24 inches. State regulations would also likely extend into federal waters. But these measures need angler input.
Attend one of the final three workshops, if possible, or at least review the material online at submit comments there. I’m said this before, be part of the process if it matters to you, or else I don’t want to hear your complaints on social media or at the dock.
Upcoming dates and locations for the meetings are as follows (all meetings start at 6 p.m. local time):
May 6:Â Fort Lauderdale, Keiser University, Room #402B, 1500 NW 49th St.Â
May 7:Â Key West, Harvey Government Center, Board of County Commissioners room, 1200 Truman Ave.Â
May 8:Â Islamorada, Founders Park Community Center, 87000 Overseas Highway
View the presentation onlineÂ and provide comments atÂ MyFWC.com/comments.Â
Ed Killer is the outdoors columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, and this column reflects his opinion. Friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 772-221-4201.