The Bright Side: Death, Taxes, and Fishing Captains

Fishing captains are an individualistic lot. They sit on the deck of their boat, day after day, surveying their aquatic kingdom, trying to figure out where to find a fish that bites, coming up with more theories than Carter has pills.

Gather them all in one room, ask them the same question, and you’ll get a different answer from each. Like death and taxes, it has only been a fact of life, until today.

Fishing was erratic last summer, when it is supposed to be the most stable. He started to improve in November, which is not unusual. What is unusual is that the fishing stayed that way over New Years. Between Christmas and New Years alone it seemed like a marlin over 500 pounds was caught every day, with the largest weighing 900 books.

Even more unusual, the good fishing also lasted for most of January. I didn’t gather all the skippers in one room to ask them why the fishing was so good this winter, but I called a few on the phone.

I expected to fill this article with their various theories, but instead, for the first time in history, they all agreed on something: “I don’t know why fishing was so good, but I’ll take it!” After about the fifth time I heard this, I thought to myself, “Well, this is going to be the shortest article in the world.” A deeper dive, however, began to uncover different bits here and there.

“Maybe those are the fish we were supposed to catch this summer,” Captain Stymie Epstein offered. This theory has some merit, as other seasonal fisheries are known to start later or earlier than “normal” in some years. On the Great Barrier Reef, black marlin usually congregate in October and November. Sometimes they start in September and sometimes at the end of October. However, these gaps are only a few weeks, not three months.

In the marlin world, all the big ones are females and they usually come to Kona in the summer to spawn. Last summer, however, none of the females that were brought to scale in the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series were in spawning condition. According to Big Al, our marlin cutting buddy, the big females he processed this winter are also sterile. So if the marlin doesn’t spawn in the summer and they don’t spawn here “late”, then something else is going on.

Based on a study published by the Commonwealth Marine Economics Programme, funded by the UK government, “climate change is expected to have profound effects on ocean fish habitats, food webs, the fish stocks they support and , hence, the productivity of the fishery”. …Based on recent distribution modelling, tuna populations are projected to shift eastward and to higher latitudes due to climatic factors…”

This report focuses almost entirely on various species of tuna, with only a cursory mention of marlin. This is because the economics of the tuna industry determines the funding for most fisheries studies of tropical and subtropical species. However, where there is tuna, there is marlin – sooner or later.

Additionally, the British Commonwealth has a number of territories in the Western Pacific that will be negatively affected by this biomass shift. The Western Pacific has produced more than half of the world’s tuna since the expansion of commercial fleets began in the late 1950s. That’s not half of the tuna caught in the Pacific. That’s half the tuna caught on Earth. That would be a lot of tuna!

The UK and its territories in the Western Pacific therefore have good reason to be concerned. The downward trickle is expected to have a deleterious effect on their economies. In addition to this, climate-related changes to reef species that local people depend on for food are also expected, while our fisheries are expected to improve.

If this document is correct, then what Kona skippers experienced could, at least in part, be attributable to this move of inventory eastward. This could also explain why none of the fish in this stock are in spawning condition. Maybe they didn’t come to Kona to spawn, they were pushed here where they usually hang out from, just to do some fishy stuff.

Stymie’s son, Captain Tracy Epstein, put it this way: “The body of water we have around us now seems to have a lot of fish in it.”

When you spend years and years on the ocean, studying your aquatic realm from the deck, you begin to visualize and understand the concept of the movements of large masses of water in the vast Pacific Ocean. Pockets of life are created by a combination of weather factors such as trade winds, ocean factors such as currents, and land and bathymetric features.

So what if we get more marlin, but they stop coming to spawn? On this subject, the article says this: “The influence of such climatic variability can have an impact on the survival of the larvae and therefore on the subsequent recruitment, as well as on the redistribution of the most suitable habitats…” . indicating that spawning grounds may change. However, the comment is so general that further studies are needed to address this specific scenario.

Here in Hawaii, Wild Oceans has started a research program they call “The Kona Project” which aims to try to improve knowledge about spawning activity and the distribution of marlin larvae in the “Kona Gyre” ecosystem. “. This vortex spins downwind of the Big Island, but the far side of the gyre can be over 200 miles offshore, affecting seamounts and Penguin Banks, to begin with.

Although every captain agrees, “I’ll take it!” when it comes to improving fishing, it was with odd timing that the “Kona Project” began trying to figure out why.

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