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Field Report from Cat Cay Bluefin Tournament

By the early 1970s, the bluefin fishery was declining as a result of commercial overfishing, primarily to supply an exploding demand in Japan. The Cat Cay sportfishing tournaments, which began in 1939, held on until the mid 1980s.

Following the release of the Bahamas tuna documentary, Bluefin on the Line, six teams competed in the 2014 Cat Cay Tuna Tournament, held June 5-7.

No fish were landed, but Amanda Perryman, Marketing Director for Costa, which produced the film, said that about 60 fish were spotted and two good bunches were baited, with no bites.

Perryman knows a thing or two about spotting bluefins, too. Besides being present for the resurrected Cat Cay event, she was in the tower with Capt. Bill Harrison aboard the Merritt boat featured in Bluefin on the Line, in which Roy Merritt, Jr., catches and releases a giant bluefin.

The six teams, which participated in the Cat Cay event in June, were Caliban, Viva La Vida, Jackpot, Patients, Miss Britt and Weekly Sails.

“The weather started up strong on the first day with the majority of fish seen then,” said Perryman. “The wind died out for days two and three and significantly less fish were spotted those days.”

In an interview earlier this year with Florida Sportsman Editor Jeff Weakley, Capt. Bill Harrison of Miami said the northbound bluefins rarely come up to the surface, where they may be baited, unless the wind is from the southeast or southwest. The first bluefin Harrison caught, in 1965, was a blind strike while marlin fishing—but he soon began baiting bluefins in the traditional manner while working the cockpit under Capt. Red Hagen.

“It's strictly a sight fishery, analogous to bonefishing—you don't wade into a flat, throw a shrimp and wait,” Harrison said. “You stalk the bonefish, see it, determine its direction and throw a shrimp in front of it. Same thing with bluefin, once you see a school, you turn, get ahead of the fish, put the bait out, and get the bait to the fish. The skill of the boat driver is 90-percent of the game, but it's a team-oriented sport—not like marlin fishing, where the captain, owner and mate could be asleep, and as long as the clicker is on, everybody hears it.”

A group of scientists was at this year's Cat Cay tournament for their third trip. The scientists “have yet to tag a fish there, but they enjoyed talking to the captains and crews that had spent years fishing those waters and learned a lot from hearing their stories,” Perryman said.

“Everyone was very encouraged that we saw fish and still believe that the fish are there, but you need the weather, specifically the wind. We knew the fishing could be tough and the fishery is incredibly weather dependent and unfortunately, you can't predict the weather. That's why we were sure to make sure to focus on the fun and camaraderie associated with the Cat Cay tuna tournaments of old.”

“All the participants were very jazzed about the event, with nearly every team already committing for next year. We also already have had interest from other teams that heard about the tournament this year and are planning on joining us in 2015.”

For more information on bluefin tuna management and Bluefin on the Line, click here.

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