P.E.I. tuna charter operators are upbeat despite new limits on mackerel live bait

·2 min read
A bluefin tuna is shown in this file photo. The charter tuna fishery season in P.E.I. begun this Friday and will continue until Oct. 31. (Chris Park/The Associated Press - image credit)
A bluefin tuna is shown in this file photo. The charter tuna fishery season in P.E.I. begun this Friday and will continue until Oct. 31. (Chris Park/The Associated Press - image credit)

Tuna fishers say the season is looking like it's going to be a good one despite a new limit on the amount of mackerel they can use as live bait.

The charter tuna fishery season began Friday and will continue until Oct. 31. Last month, the federal Department of Fisheries granted an exemption to tuna fishers to catch mackerel for bait amid a moratorium on the commercial fishery.

Jason Tompkins, the owner of TNT Tuna, said the season is looking good for his business with high demand domestically and in Europe. TNT Tuna is a bluefin exporter in North Lake.

"Last year, we did 638 fish," he said.

"There's a little bump and quota this year due to our sustainable-catch methods here in Canada. So we'll probably do somewhere between 700 and 1,000 fish in the next three or four months."

In March, the DFO imposed a moratorium on the commercial mackerel fishery in Atlantic Canada. The population has been dwindling for over a decade.

Mackerel is an essential part of the rod-and-real bluefin fishery. The P.E.I. Tuna Charter Association said after the moratorium was announced the charters would end if there were no exemptions.

Now, boats can catch 20 live mackerel daily, about half of what they would normally get.

Tompkins said the exemptions provide a small window for fishers to catch the tuna while also allowing mackerel stocks to regrow, which could prove be beneficial for them longer term.

"We've seen the fat content and tuna kind of going down for the last eight or 10 years," he said.

"We're kind of waiting with 'quote-unquote bated breath' to see if these tuna are going to have more of a chance to fatten up where they're not in competition with the commercial fishery."

But Tompkins added lobster and crab fisheries would suffer more.

David Sansom is a lobster and tuna fisher out of Morell. He said the mackerel limit is an "unrealistic number" for fishers.

"If you have a busy day or you're moving a lot, you know, people are catching fish around ... every time you haul your lines in patiently, the mackerel is dead," he said.

Sansom has caught two bluefins so far. On average, one such fish could net a boat between $4,000 and $5,000.

"The very first couple of days there's, yeah, fish around. But nothing real big," Sansom said. "I guess we were lucky to get one each day. Warm water brings the fish and [there] should be lots of fishing any day — or even now."

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