Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the Hunt for Pacific Bluefin in NZ

TAG scientist and Stanford Ph.D. student George Shillinger sent this report from New Zealand...

I arrived in Greymouth on the 9th and am organizing gear right now. At the moment we are dealing with some bad weather. There is a big low from the southwest moving through quickly, but it's kicking up a lot of rain and heavy winds -- up to 57 mph (50 knots). It looks like our first good weather window may be Sunday morning -- keep your fingers crossed. Thus far fishing has been hot for southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), with many of the fish in the jumbo-size range, up to 331 pounds (150 kilograms). The record is 348 pounds (158 kilograms). Fishing for giant Pacific bluefin (Thunnus orientalis) has been slow -- so far 2 fish have been caught. A third fish broke off at the wire on the the boat Cerveza, our partner vessel.

This is how sportfishermen go after southern and Pacific bluefin: they follow the hoki trawlers, giant floating 24-hour fish factories that slowly plow the seas around New Zealand and pull in giant nets filled with hoki (see picture above). A lot of other animals -- bluefin tuna, sharks, albatross -- go after the fish slipping from the nets. [ed. note: Hoki -- also known as blue grenadier, blue hake, New Zealand whiptail, whiptail or whiptail hake -- are an enormous commercial fishery. They're one of five types of fish used in McDonald's fish fillet sandwiches worldwide. McDonald's restaurants in New Zealand alone serve about 300 metric tons (661,500 pounds) in fish sandwiches every year.]

The hoki trawlers have been concentrating their effors south of Hokitika, about 25 miles south of here. At the moment, they're smack in the middle of the worst winter weather. They should be working their way up to the Hokitika trench duing the next week. Once the trawlers arrive en masse, the Pacific bluefin tuna fishing should improve markedly.

While we wait for the weather to clear, we're going to canvas the docks and boats to ask skippers to provide us with tissue and data -- such as sea surface temperature, location, and length -- for all the bluefin they catch.

Hopefully we will be on the water no later than Monday, if we're lucky! I'll keep you posted.

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