Local News

Bluefin Attract Big Sport

Posted February 15, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The bait fish arrive first. Then the game fish. Then the fishermen. And that's exactly what has happened in late winter for the past three years off Cape Hatteras -- where schools of immense bluefin tuna are attracting sport fishermen from around the world.

No one knows why they are here and only here, but bluefin typically weighing 1000 pounds are caught with regularity off Hatteras.

Some days it seems only the "small" bluefins come out to play. The 400-pounders that are 7 feet long. Still, they offer great battle.

Capt. Bob Eakes, who makes his living taking fishermen out in the deep waters to try their luck, calls bluefin "the biggest and meanest tackle in the world."

Indeed, people from around the world make their way to Cape Hatteras to follow the tuna. And that, Eakes says, has had a dramatic effect on the winter economy.

Restaurants, motels, charter boats, fishing supply stores that always closed up for the quiet winter months are open to serve the burgeoning sports fishing population.

Boats equipped with sonar devices easily find the schools of fish. Then it's up to the person doing the fishing to cast the line, and reel them in -- unless the fish's weight snaps the line.

There is a limit, strictly enforced, on how many bluefin can be taken in US waters each year. And that limit has already been reached.

So now the charter boats plying these waters catch the fish, take out the hook, tag them and release them unharmed.

It's not at all unusual for a boat to head home with 20 to 25 catches toted up for the day, even if they don't have any tuna on board for evening dinner.

Eakes says every time he comes across the schools of huge tuna, He is "just as excited as the first time," he saw them.

He and other Cape Hatteras residents just hope the bluefin continues to visit North Carolina waters -- any time of year.