Bluefin tuna in P.E.I. are so hungry, they no longer fear humans (2023)

Bobbing up and down on cold Atlantic waters, several fishermen toss scaly, silver mackerel overboard. It's a delicious snack for a bluefin tuna — the largest species of tuna in the world, measuring more than six feet in length and weighing up to 1,600 pounds.

The newcomer among them, a writer and ecologist, expects to spend the afternoon patiently waiting for a bite. Instead, the bluefin tuna here in North Lake, P.E.I. are so abundant and so hungry that within minutes their trademark yellow caudal finlets are circling the boat.

With a quick and audible snap, one surfaces just long enough to swallow the chum and glide over on its side, showing the fishermen its remarkable size. Sometimes, says one of the men, the bluefin are so hungry they'll take the bait straight out of a person's hands.

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It's one of many up close and personal encounters captured in Bluefin, a new documentary by P.E.I. director and writer John Hopkins examining the mystery of North Lake's bluefin tuna. Some estimates indicate that more than 80 per cent of the world's Western Atlantic bluefin population has been wiped out from overfishing, yet in North Lake, known as the "Tuna Capital of the World," they swarm in massive numbers.

And they're always hungry, says Hopkins — so hungry, in fact, they've lost their fear of humans entirely and endanger themselves near fishing vessels for the chance to eat. Something strange is happening, he told National Observer, and it's causing major confusion in the case to conserve them: are Atlantic bluefin tuna on the rebound or not?

Bluefin is a 52-minute documentary by P.E.I. director John Hopkins of Square Deal Productions. The film is scheduled for screening at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, which programs year-round, on Dec. 19, 2017.

A dangerous and deceptive decline

North Lake, a small 'unincorporated area' in eastern P.E.I., is a migratory stop for Western Atlantic bluefin, which travel north from the Gulf of Mexico where they spawn. When the commercial fishery for P.E.I.'s bluefins took off in the 1960s and 70s — almost exclusively to feed Japan's insatiable sushi market — their numbers dropped dangerously low.

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In Japan, Bluefin reveals, a single fish can sell for US$10,000 and roughly 10,000 metric tonnes of bluefin are sold each week in the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. There isn't much of a market for them in Canada, said Hopkins, where bluefin have traditionally been considered too oily to eat and too much trouble to prepare.

While migration brings bluefin to North Lake, so does the concentration of easy prey: fishermen are constantly reeling in schools of herring to serve as bait in their lobster traps.

The problem now, said Hopkins, is that the herring stock in North Lake has decreased so dramatically that it leaves piles of hungry bluefin swimming in local waters. That's what gives local fishermen the impression that they're abundant, he explained, masking a global population well below where it used to be.

There's also evidence that Eastern Atlantic bluefin have been mixing in the water with Western populations off the East Coast, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), contributing to the influx of bluefin in the area.

"Normally, they're vary wary fish and would be frightened to go near fishermen, like they have traditionally in the past," said Hopkins. "But these guys are coming right up to the boat looking to be hand-fed like pets, because it's basically the only survival route that they have at this moment.

"Fishermen are surprised that the fish are so friendly, but no one's putting two and two together."

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Bluefin tuna in P.E.I. are so hungry, they no longer fear humans (1)

Bluefins not endangered: DFO

According to DFO, Canada's Western Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery attracts more than 750 licensed harvesters, who earn roughly $10 million a year. The fish are caught over the Scotian Shelf, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the Bay of Fundy and off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The federal government is a "strong advocate" for their conservation using precautionary approaches to stock management, says DFO's website, but in 2016, the department rejected recommendations from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to list the fish as an endangered species. At the time, it noted, stocks had been rebuilding since 2011, and nearly 650 commercial licenses and 57 sport fishing charter operations in Atlantic Canada would face "significant socioeconomic cost" by a species-at-risk designation.

Asked about that decision, in a written statement on Friday, DFO said it "decided to not list given domestic and international management regimes in place, and projected socio-economic impacts."

The stocks have indeed improved over the last decade, said Gary Melvin, a research scientist with DFO at the St. Andrew's Biological Station in New Brunswick. Part of that is due to "good management," he explained, but part of it also "luck."

"Nature has produced favourable conditions for bluefin tuna to successfully reproduce and survive," he said in an interview. "Mankind cannot take the credit for everything. There have been management-related issues that have been put in place to try and actually curb the catches. Most of them have worked and it seems we’re slowly reaping benefits."

Canada's annual quota for catching the ocean beasts is determined by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). This year, ICCAT increased the number of Western Atlantic bluefin that can be taken out of the water for the next three years to 2,350 tonnes from 2,000 tonnes. Canada gets a 22-per-cent share of that, said Melvin, but it is not the biggest international player.

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Katie Schleit, marine campaign co-ordinator for the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, is concerned that despite the "slight uptick," numbers won't return "anywhere near" where it once was without stronger conservation measures. The increased fishing quota implemented by ICCAT, she said, is expected to lead to a Western Atlantic bluefin population decline of up to 7.5 per cent.

That's what makes Bluefin such an important documentary, Schleit explained — it turns attention from Japan's sushi market to Canadian waters.

"We have a population that's not where it once was, that's been showing a few signs of growing, that now we're potentially putting in jeopardy of declining again," she told National Observer. "I don't think many people think about it being a species that lives in Canadian waters... These fish come into our waters in the summer to feed."

Melvin confirmed that the population is expected to decrease under ICCAT's new quota, but said that even with the decrease, the population will still be within the reference point target set by the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics. The standing committee develops and recommends all policy and procedures for the collection, analysis and dissemination of fishery statistics for ICCAT.

Bluefin tuna in P.E.I. are so hungry, they no longer fear humans (2)

Documentary making waves

Bluefin, a National Film Board of Canada documentary, is already making waves. It received the 2017 Wildlife Award at San Francisco’s International Ocean Film Festival and the Best Atlantic Filmmaker Award at the Lunenburg Doc Fest, and was nominated as 2017's Best Feature Documentary at the Raindance Festival in London, England.

The film will be distributed in 150 libraries across the country, and is scheduled to play at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, which programs year-round, on Dec. 19.

Meantime, Hopkins, the film crew and many of North Lake's fishermen, hope the Western Atlantic bluefin will be given a chance to truly flourish.

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Warm-blooded fish with streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies, they can accelerate faster than a Porsche 911, and reach speeds of more than 125 kilometres an hour over short distances. Despite this prowess, they're far from being conservation campaign darlings like pandas, elephants, and polar bears.

​“Here is an animal that, if it was a land animal, it would be revered," Brian Skerry, Bluefin's underwater photographer notes in the film. "Nobody would ever, I don’t think, allow it to get close to extinction. But because it’s a fish — because it’s sort of out of sight, out of mind, and cold and scaly — people don’t seem to have that same reverence."

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Fri. Dec. 15, 2017 to correct an error. The previous version stated that Bluefin will be showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival. In fact, it will be showing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.


Why does the article say this may have been the last generation of bluefin tuna? ›

More than nine out of 10 of the species recently caught were too young to have reproduced, meaning they may have been the last generation of the bluefin tuna.

Why are bluefin tuna important to humans? ›

They're an important part of Mediterranean culture too, having been hunted, eaten and supporting local communities since ancient times. And commercially, they're among the most valuable of all fish species – particularly in Japan, where bluefin is a highly prized delicacy in sushi and sashimi.

Can Atlantic bluefin tuna cook itself if it becomes too stressed due to its warm blood? ›

A bluefin can become so hot as it struggles against capture that it can literally cook itself; to avoid this, fishermen will rake the fish's gills and bleed it out.

Who eats the most bluefin tuna? ›

Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the most highly prized fish used in Japanese raw fish dishes. About 80% of the caught Atlantic and Pacific bluefin tunas are consumed in Japan. Bluefin tuna sashimi is a particular delicacy in Japan.

Why is bluefin tuna controversial? ›

With declining populations only accelerating the process of extinction, Atlantic bluefin tuna are a species at significantly high risk. Overfishing is the single biggest threat to Atlantic bluefin tuna today. The story of human overexploitation of Atlantic bluefin tuna exemplifies a pivotal moment in marine history.

Is bluefin tuna good to eat? ›

Bluefin Tuna is one of the most sought after fish in the world, prized by chefs and foodies alike. Known for its melt-in-your mouth texture and deep red colouring, Bluefin Tuna has the darkest and fattiest flesh of all the tuna varieties.

What are 3 interesting facts about bluefin tuna? ›

Facts. Bluefin are the largest tunas and can live up to 40 years. They migrate across all oceans and can dive deeper than 3,000 feet. Bluefin tuna are made for speed: built like torpedoes, have retractable fins and their eyes are set flush to their body.

Can you eat too much bluefin tuna? ›

According to LiveStrong, eating more than the advised amount of tuna each week can result in increased exposure to mercury, a neurotoxin. Mercury poisoning can cause several concerning neurological symptoms, including coordination loss, memory problems, seizures, and tremors.

Why is bluefin tuna eaten raw? ›

Raw tuna is a common ingredient in sushi and sashimi, which are Japanese dishes made from a combination of rice, raw fish, vegetables, and seaweed. Tuna is a lean protein that contains omega-3 fatty acids as well as several vitamins and minerals. It's often served raw or barely cooked but is also available canned.

What kills bluefin tuna? ›

Able to survive up to 20 years in the wild, bluefin tuna have only a few natural predators, including killer whales, sharks and a handful of other big fish.

Why does tuna burn my throat? ›

So, if a person eats fish that has a high level of histamine, the response may resemble an allergic reaction to that food. Certain kinds of fish are more prone to cause histamine toxicity. These include tuna, mackerel, mahi mahi, anchovy, herring, bluefish, amberjack and marlin.

Do tuna cook themselves alive? ›

Did you know that bluefin tuna are so powerful that they can cook themselves? This is part of the reason why bluefin tuna is so expensive. They are endothermic animals. They produce their own body heat, and the stress of being caught on a fishing line can cause them to warm up so much that their insides burn.

How old is a 500 lb bluefin tuna? ›

Atlantic bluefin tuna reach maturity relatively quickly. In a survey that included specimens up to 2.55 m (8.4 ft) in length and 247 kg (540 lb) in weight, none was believed to be older than 15 years. [15] However, very large specimens may be up to 50 years old.

What fish is bigger than a bluefin tuna? ›

The 10 Largest Fish Ever Caught

Greenland shark: 1,708 pounds 9 ounces (775 kg.) Black marlin: 1,560 pounds (707.6 kg.) Atlantic bluefin tuna: 1,496 pounds (678.6 kg.) Atlantic blue marlin: 1,402 pounds 2 ounces (636 kg.)

Which is the most expensive fish in the world bluefin tuna? ›

Weighing 212 kg, this bluefin tuna fetched $273,000 at an auction in Tokyo's Toyosu fish market in the first week of January 2023.

Is bluefin tuna used in canned tuna? ›

Bluefin is not used in canned tuna. Bluefin is the darkest and fattiest of any tuna – and also the largest of the commercially caught tuna species. Bluefin tuna can weigh over 1,000 pounds. Young Bluefins have a lighter flesh and are milder in flavor.

Is bluefin tuna clean or unclean? ›

Some "fin fish" do not have scales (e.g. various types of tuna - blue fin and yellow fin are clean) and therefore are also included amongst the Biblical unclean foods.

Why do Japanese like bluefin tuna? ›

Bluefin tuna is renowned as one of the top-class tuna and one of the most prized fish in the Japanese restaurant industry. This expensive high-grade fish is usually served in top-notch sushi and sashimi restaurants in Japan. Aside from its rich nutritional value, the tasty natural flavor is a must-try!

Can I eat bluefin tuna I caught raw? ›

Fish safe to eat raw

Tuna: Any sort of tuna, be it bluefin, yellowfin, skipjack, or albacore, can be eaten raw. It is one of the oldest ingredients used in sushi and is regarded by some as the icon of sushi and sashimi.

What tuna is used in canned tuna? ›

Common types of canned tuna include Solid White Albacore Tuna, Chunk White Albacore Tuna, and Chunk Light Tuna.

What tastes better bluefin or yellowfin tuna? ›

Both yellowfin and bluefin tunas appear on sushi and sashimi menus across the continents. However, bluefin reigns supreme in this meal rendition due to its deliciously fatty flesh, explains Dinko Seafoods. The flavor is full and rich, and the "meaty" texture lends itself well to raw consumption in sashimi and sushi.

How old is a 200 lb bluefin tuna? ›

Appearance. Atlantic bluefin tuna can reach 10 feet in length and 1,000 pounds. Most adults are around 200 pounds at 10 years of age. They are a deep blue on the dorsals with a silvery belly.

What are baby bluefin tuna called? ›

The larvae hatch at a size of 3.0mm. They have large heads and large jaws, and lack body pigmentation. Larvae of Thunnus species are very difficult to distinguish from one another, however bluefin are the only Thunnus species to have dorsal tail pigment. (image from NMFS-SEFC-240) The larvae grow at 1 mm per day.

How old is the oldest bluefin tuna? ›

Oldest Bluefin Tuna Recapture On Record

The bluefin was 1 year old and measured 20 inches long when researchers captured it on February 24, 1993, off the same coast where Gazzola hooked it three decades later. By then the 30-year-old fish stretched 6 feet, 4 inches long and weighed 298 pounds.

What is the safest tuna to eat? ›

The FDA recommends consuming fish lower in mercury. For tuna varieties, skipjack earns the Best Choice label from the FDA, while yellowfin and albacore receive the Good Choice label. The FDA suggests avoiding bigeye tuna, which has the highest levels of mercury.

Can dogs eat tuna? ›

But can dogs eat tuna? The answer is no. You shouldn't feed your canine companion the saltwater fish because it could lead to a number of different health problems.

What happens if I eat 2 cans of tuna everyday? ›

Mercury exposure is linked to health issues including poor brain function, anxiety, depression, heart disease and impaired infant development. Though tuna is very nutritious, it's also high in mercury compared to most other fish. Therefore, it should be eaten in moderation — not every day.

Should you bleed bluefin tuna? ›

Bleeding improves the appearance of uncooked tuna flesh, helps initially to reduce the fish's body temperature and also gets rid of all the bacteria located in the fish's blood stream that may foul the flesh. All tuna should be bled for 10 to 15 minutes after iki-spiking and then immediately chilled.

Do you have to bleed bluefin tuna? ›

Once the fish is secured, attach a swim hook and swim the fish for at least 45 minutes to an hour. This gives the fish a chance to cool down and recover. Bleeding - Once the fish recovers and before you land it you will need to bleed it. This ensures a much higher quality product.

Why put rice paper on tuna? ›

Bluefin tuna prices waver dramatically depending on the quality of the meat, so every step they take upon pulling the fish in is crucial. Essentially, direct contact with the ice can affect the color of the fish's skin and meat and cause freezer burn. The rice paper helps keep the fish cold without ruining the meat.

Are there parasites in bluefin tuna? ›

Species of large tuna that are considered free of parasites include: Albacore, Yellowfin, Blackfin, Bluefin, Bigeye, Longtail, and Karasick. Fluke, Grouper, Jack, Bass, Trout, small Tuna, and Salmon (aquacultured and wild) may contain parasites and should be frozen for parasite destruction.

Why do they stab tuna? ›

Kill and Bleed the tuna

Some people prefer to spike the tuna by inserting a thin metal spike into the brain area located on the top of the head between the eyes. This is a very humane and quick way to kill the tuna however it also prevents the heart from beating faster than bleeding the fish out.

Why do I feel sick after eating tuna steak? ›

There are two types of food poisoning you can get from eating fish. They are ciguatera poisoning and scombroid poisoning. Ciguatera poisoning symptoms include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms can progress to headache, muscle aches, and itchy, tingly, or numbness of the skin.

Why do I get itchy after eating tuna? ›

Scombrotoxic or histamine fish poisoning is a common condition normally associated with consuming spoiled tuna, mackerel, bonito, or skipjack. Typical symptoms like flushing, urticaria, and palpitations mimic those of allergy so histamine fish poisoning can easily be misdiagnosed.

What is the most common food poisoning from tuna? ›

Scombroid occurs from eating fish high in histamine due to inappropriate storage or processing. Fish commonly implicated include tuna, mackerel, mahi mahi, sardine, anchovy, herring, bluefish, amberjack, and marlin.

What is a group of tuna called? ›

When fish, shrimp or other aquatic creatures swim together in a loose cluster, this is typically called a shoal. It can be a mix of different species. A school is a group of the same fish species swimming together in synchrony; turning, twisting and forming sweeping, glinting shapes in the water.

How much does a full bluefin tuna cost? ›

This time around, things seem to be recovering as a giant 212 kg bluefin tuna was sold for ¥36 million JPY ($275,000 USD) which brings the price per kg up to the $1,300 USD mark. This increase in demand signals a return of the F&B industry in Japan brought on by an increase in tourism.

Where is the best place to fish for tuna in the US? ›

The yellowfin tuna fishing in Louisiana is some of the best in the country especially out of Venice. Often called the Tuna Capital of the Gulf, more tuna are landed here than in any other place in the Gulf of Mexico. For one of the best fishing trips in the gulf, Check out our Venice Yellowfin Tuna Charters.

How much is a 700 pound tuna worth? ›

Teen girl and dad reel in gigantic 700-pound tuna after 10 hour fight - and it's worth approximately $7,000 in sushi.

What is the biggest tuna ever caught? ›

The largest one currently on record belongs to fisherman Ken Fraser, who caught a bluefin tuna off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada in 1979. That fish weighed in at an astounding 1,496 pounds! To this day, no fisherman has ever come close to matching this world record bluefin tuna catch.

What is the heaviest bluefin tuna ever caught? ›

How Big Was the Largest Bluefin Tuna Ever Caught? The biggest tuna caught weighed 1,496 pounds. The largest bluefin ever caught weighed an incredible 1,496 lbs! You may have heard of the reality TV show called “Wicked Tuna” that follows a group of tuna fishermen from Massachusetts.

What is the most caught fish in the world? ›

As can be seen in the table below, tuna is included in the major wild caught marine species in the Finfish category, the latter representing 85 percent of the total production of all fish and seafood across the globe.

What is the rarest fish ever caught in the world? ›

1. The Devils Hole Pupfish is the Rarest Fish in the World.

How much is 1lb bluefin tuna? ›

For example, local Bluefin tuna wholesale price per pound might cost between $20 and $40 while you can be paying a minimum of $200 a pound for Bluefin tuna from Japan. In peak season, Oma tuna can cost close to $400 a pound.

What country buys the most bluefin tuna? ›

This has been the case for the past fifty years, mostly due to its popularity in Japan. Japan is largest importer of bluefin tuna in the world, although consumption around the world has been on the rise.

Why can't bluefin tuna be farmed? ›

“The arguments against bluefin tuna farming are that bluefin are sloppy feeders and a lot of the feed is wasted; that a lot of the feed is [made up of] sardines, anchovies and other forage fish that should remain in the ecosystem; that it will never pan out to be profitable or environmentally sustainable.

Why can't we farm bluefin tuna? ›

Tuna are large, migratory, and predatory fish. They want to roam and hunt. Tuna are currently farmed in massive pens at sea but it is a difficult and expensive endeavor due to sharks, weather, feeding, maintenance, etc. The key is to not overfish the stocks, but that is difficult due to tuna being migratory.

What would happen to the ecosystem of bluefin tuna went extinct? ›

If bluefin tuna were to go extinct, it is likely that these sea creatures would quickly become overpopulated. This would cause a sort of domino effect as the increase in numbers of these animals would lead to a decrease in the populations of their prey.

What is the status of the bluefin tuna population and why? ›

Population Status

According to the 2022 stock assessment, Pacific bluefin tuna is overfished, but not subject to overfishing. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.

Can bluefin tuna be farm raised? ›

Takashima Bluefin Tuna are farmed from juveniles for three and a half years until the fish weighs an average of 60kg. Fully mature tuna are then sold to fresh fish specialty stores and restaurants as well as revolving sushi chains and supermarkets.

How much could just one bluefin tuna be sold for? ›

For comparison's sake, the 459-pound bluefin tuna at last year's event sold for $202,000. In 2020, meanwhile, a 600-pounder hammered down for $1.8 million. The auction record was set in 2019, when a bluefin sold for a staggering $3.1 million.

Can you hunt bluefin tuna? ›

Permit. To commercially harvest bluefin tuna in federal waters—as well as the state waters of all states except Maine, Connecticut, and Mississippi—vessel owners must obtain one of the following permits: Atlantic Tunas permit, which has General, Harpoon, Trap, Longline, and Purse Seine categories.

What year will tuna go extinct? ›

Yellowfin tuna 'heading for collapse' by 2026: A 20% reduction in catch would turn the tide. Yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean is overfished and 'heading for collapse' by 2026, according to non-profit thinktank Planet Tracker.

How many bluefin tuna are left in the wild? ›

There are more than a million Bluefin Tunas. What is an interesting fact about the Bluefin Tuna? The bluefin is one of the largest fish in the world.

Is the bluefin tuna population recovering? ›

The recovery of the species has been a management success, although the climate has also played an important part.

How do you stop bluefin tuna from overfishing? ›

Measures to reduce bluefin bycatch

Commercial fishermen using longline gear to target swordfish and other tuna species must follow measures that reduce the amount of bluefin tuna caught incidentally, such as: Using “weak” circle hooks designed to straighten when larger fish or animals are caught.

Is blue fin tuna going extinct? ›


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2. Bluefin (1080p) FULL DOCUMENTARY - Animal Conservation, Educational, Environmental
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