The big-game tuna fishing wasn’t great, but the 30 boats in the first Bluefin Blowout landed enough giants — one each day of the tournament, the larger at 582 pounds — to keep the big crowds wowed this weekend at the host Cape Ann Marina here in the East Coast capital of tunadom.
The tournament winner, Beverly boat Maya Elizabeth, won the $9,000 first prize plus $1,000 for the largest fish of the day, caught Saturday.
Until Maya Elizabeth arrived back at the marina, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. boat, Bulldog, was positioned the win with its 406-pound giant landed on Friday. Second-place money was $2,500 plus the $1,000 for the day’s largest fish.
Juvenile bluefins were easier to find, and avidly sought, caught, tagged and released for science — a result of the abnormally warm water in the Northwest Atlantic, said Molly Lutcavage, a research professor and director of a large pelagics laboratory in Gloucester, and Mark Godfried, who organized the tagging effort.
Seeking colder water, giant bluefin, Lutcavage said Monday, have reappeared in Canadian locations for the first time in 30 years.
Beyond the giant catches, the tournament was also hooked to a catch, tag and release tournament for the benefit of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Large Pelagics Research Center in Gloucester’s Bay View neighborhood on Ipswich Bay. Now in its fifth year, Tag a Tiny Tuna drew another 19 boats, which happened to catch and tag 19 juveniles in the 30-40 inch range.
If that weren’t enough diversity for tuna lovers, Tag a Tiny Tuna boats were hooking and releasing juvenile bonito tuna on Stellwagen Bank on Jeffries Ledge, south and north of Gloucester. Bonito are infrequently found north of Cape Cod, and to Godfried and Lutcavage, their presence this far north in numbers was another sign that the climate had ratcheted south to north.
Tournament founder and co-director Drew Hale Monday described himself as thrilled by the turnout, estimated at thousands each day, and said he is motivated to build an even bigger and better tournament next year here in the East Coast capital of tunadom.
“It will be — no pun intended — a blowout next year,” said Hale.
Until this past weekend, it had been decades since Gloucester — long legendary as a bluefin tuna hub — hosted a tournament.
The blowout was organized at Cape Ann Marina, the same locale on the Annisquam River chosen by the National Geographic Channel for its hit reality series, “Wicked Tuna,” about the working bluefin fleet. The show has been extended for a second season.
The weekend tournament was primarily sponsored by the Lyon-Waugh Auto Group of Peabody and New Hampshire, Maui-Jim sunglasses, Grady White boats, Seaboard products — including ales and lagers — and Beart Marine in Middleton. Godfried and Heidi Burgess were co-organizers of the Tag a Little Tuna tournament.
But Gloucester and bluefin have long been synonymous.
In the 1970s, when Gloucester’s economy was declining, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon created a stir and gave the city a boost by establishing a vertically integrated export bluefin fishery here, just as the demand in a revitalized post-war Japan was growing exponentially.
The Moon operation remains in vestigial form. No fish is more prized in the global market, with sushi buyers in Japan ready to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a bluefin with perfect qualities of fat in the flesh, free of bruises. The largest sum spent on a single bluefin was $736,000 at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Seafood market in January.
In the weekend’s tournament fishing, the shortage of giants and wide distribution of juveniles was attributed to the unprecedented warm waters around Gloucester with water in the 70s. Rules for the boats hunting giants required them back at the marina at 5 p.m. both days, limiting range well short of Georges Bank, which, in recent years has been a tuna crossroads.
“Most boats were limited to within 20 miles of Cape Ann, some of the fastest got out 40 miles,” said Mark Godfried, organizer of the Tag a Tiny Tuna event.
“This weekend was the first showing of the 1-to-3-year-old juveniles,” said Lutcavage.
These age classes prefer warmer water than the giants, and were expected though hard to find in the Mid-Atlantic region. But they were a welcome surprise just off shore from Cape Ann, said Lutcavage.
Temperatures in nearby waters typically peak in the 60s this time of year, but, Godfried said, boats using depth finders with temperature monitors, were reporting temperatures in the mid-70s on Stellwagen and Jefferies.
“Another complication I see,” he said, was the lack of any major winds since May, leaving vivid stratification of the water in layers of temperature decreasing from record highs as the water deepens.
“People don’t believe in climate change, but fishermen do,” said Lutcavage. “Everything in the ocean is moving north. Groundfish species are moving north. Canadians are reporting mid-Atlantic species — triggerfish, bonito, loggerhead turtles, flying fish, albacore and yellowfin tuna.” Because there was no third giant weighed at Cape Ann Marina, the tournament committee decided to give the third place money, $1,000, to Tobin Dominick of the Cape Ann Marina.
She participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge, and is leveraging the money in the name of her late father, Drew Dominick, who founded the marina beginning in 1972, and owned and operated it until he died in 2010.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.