The bluefin are back. Each spring bluefin tuna migrate up the Atlantic coast, ar-riving in Maine waters some time in June. While their local return is exciting news for Maine fishermen, the resurgence of Atlantic bluefin tuna populations represents a true conservation success story, a bluefin bonanza. Thanks to careful, science-based management measures implemented under The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the stocks are stronger than at any time in recent memory.
According to NOAA Fisheries, the 2017 stock assessment indicated that the western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock is not subject to over-fishing and is currently being fished at the recommended level. Scientists estimate that the western stock’s spawning stock biomass (a measure of the amount of bluefin that are able to reproduce) has been increasing since about 2004, after two decades of stability. ICCAT selected a catch limit for 2018 through 2020 that is a 17% increase relative to the level in effect for 2015 through 2017. This level provides a buffer to ensure an additional layer of precaution. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has also changed its recommendations for the western Atlantic bluefin stock, listing it as a good alternative seafood.
Maine’s commercial bluefin fishery is considered Artisanal, meaning it is a traditional fishery involving fishing households (as opposed to commercial companies), using relatively small amounts of capital and energy, relatively small fishing vessels, making short fishing trips, close to shore, mainly for local consumption. Maine tuna are caught by harpoon and rod and reel, highly selective methods that eliminate by-catch and ensure the highest quality product.
Recent events have made it even harder to earn a decent living bringing seafood to shore but every dark cloud has a silver lining. One positive to come out of recent economic struggles is a renaissance in supporting local fisheries. Many fisherman up and down the Maine coast have been selling fresh-caught lobster and ground-fish right off the boat to consumers eager to take advantage of the bounty.
The bluefin’s return represents another opportunity for consumers to support fresh, locally caught sustainable fisheries. If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot. Worldwide, bluefin is regarded as superior for sushi. It’s also great for grilling, tartare and a variety of other recipes. Check with your local fish markets, grocers and restaurants. If they don’t carry bluefin as a regular item, ask them to consider doing so.