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August 15, 2013

Sizes up, landings down for tuna fleet

The bluefin tuna season is in full swing, and the early returns are a mixed study, with good news regarding the size of the available fish against lower numbers of actual fish landed.

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts’ Gloucester-based marine research center and at least one local tuna seller agree that the anecdotal and statistical realities so far in the 2013 season indicate lower catch rates than in years past.

The good news, however, is that those lower catch rates seem to be offset by larger fish swimming in larger schools than the industry has seen in the past few years.

“The availability of really big fish seems to be higher than the last couple years,” said Molly Lutcavage, director and research professor at UMass’ Large Pelagics Research Center at Hodgkins Cove. “That’s confirmed by the fact that one of the purse seines made their first multiple set since probably 2004.”

Lutcavage said spotter-plane pilots also have reported seeing “much larger schools of large fish” than they have in years.

“That perspective is from multiple pilots flying over larger areas,” Lutcavage said.

The evidence that this year’s stock includes larger fish also was strengthened by the fact that one local tuna captain recently hauled in a bluefin that weighed 920 pounds, as confirmed in an earlier email to The Times from P.J. Mead, owner of Compass Seafood in Gloucester, a primary grader, processor and seller of tuna.

That prized fish was hauled in on a charter trip by Capt. Kevin Leonowert, whose boat The Huntress is part of the “Wicked Tuna” fleet featured on National Geographic TV’s acclaimed reality series.

“This year the overall size is bigger,” Mead said Wednesday. “We’ve been averaging over 300 pounds already, and that’s sure to increase as the season continues.”

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