(page 338)

Tuna Thunnus thynnus (Linnaeus) 1758 [89]


[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 870.]

Tuna (Thunnus thynnus)

Figure 181.—Tuna (Thunnus thynnus). After Smitt.


The two dorsal fins of the tuna are practically continuous, a character (with the [page 339] large number of finlets) sufficient in itself to separate a very young one from either of our true mackerels. A small one is readily separable from the striped bonito and from the false albacore by the fact that the entire trunk of the tuna, including the belly, is scaly, the upper outline of its first dorsal fin only very slightly concave; and from the common bonito (p. 337) by a second dorsal that is considerably higher than it is long by the shape of its anal with only weakly concave margin, by the small size of its jaw teeth; and by the midline of the roof of its mouth armed with hairlike teeth. The plain coloration of the tuna, without dark markings, is still another convenient field mark for separating small ones from any of the bonito tribe that have been reported from our Gulf.

The tuna is shaped like a bonito rather than like a mackerel, with robust body, about one-fourth to one-sixth as deep as long, tapering to a pointed nose and to a very slender caudal peduncle which bears a strong median longitudinal keel on either side. The first dorsal fin (13 or 14 spines), originating close behind the axil of the pectoral, is triangular, its upper edge weakly concave, tapering backward from its first spine, and with the last spine very short indeed. And it can be laid down, flush, in a groove along the back. The second dorsal (about 13 rays, not depressible) is almost confluent with the first (a little lower than the latter in young fish and a little higher in old) is at least as high as it is long or higher, deeply concave behind, and with sharp-pointed apex. The anal fin originates under the rear end of the second dorsal to which it is similar in outline and size (about 12 rays). Usually there are 9 or 10 dorsal finlets and 8 or 9 anal finlets, behind the second dorsal fin and the anal fin, respectively. The tail fin is much broader than long, its margin evenly lunate, its two lobes sharp pointed, much as it is in the bonitos. The pectoral and ventral fins are of moderate size, the former scimitar-shaped and much longer than broad.[90]


The back is dark lustrous steel blue or nearly black, with gray or green reflections; the cheeks silvery; the sides and belly silvery gray, often with large silvery spots and bands, and iridescent with pink. The first dorsal is dusky to blackish; the second dusky to reddish brown; the dorsal finlets yellow with dark edgings. The anal fin is silvery gray; the anal finlets the same, or yellow; the caudal dusky but more or less silvery; the ventrals and pectorals blackish above and silvery gray below.[91]


This is the largest Gulf of Maine fish, except for some sharks; a length of 14 feet or more, and a weight of 1,600 pounds being rumored, with fish of 1,000 pounds not rare. The heaviest Rhode Island fish on record, taken about 1913, weighed 1,225 pounds, while 4 or 6 fish have been brought into Boston that weighed approximately [page 340] 1,200 pounds each, and one in 1924 that is said to have reached 1,300 pounds; and Sella[92] mentions a "fairly well authenticated instance" of one caught 60 to 70 years ago off Narragansett Pier, R. I., that weighed in the neighborhood of 1,500 pounds, was divided among the various hotels, and fed 1,000 people. The largest caught so far on rod and reel weighed 977 pounds and was 9 feet 9 inches long.[93] One of 932 pounds, taken at Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, by H. E. Teller, in September 1951, is the largest that has been caught on rod and reel in the Gulf of Maine.[94] Another of 864 pounds[95] was 9 feet 4 inches long and 88 inches in girth.

Large tuna of the same length and caught the same day may vary as much as 100 pounds or more in weight, depending on their condition, as pointed out by Crane.[96] Lengths and weights of tuna, before being dressed, caught in Massachusetts Bay and off Ipswich in July and August 1951 were as follows: 28 inches, 17 pounds; 34 inches, 30 pounds; 42 inches, 56 pounds; 60 inches, 144 pounds; 63 inches, 172 pounds; 66 inches, 188 pounds; 68 inches, 200 pounds; 88 inches, 516 pounds; 93 inches, 587 pounds. Off Bimini, in May and June, 1950, two 88-inch tuna averaged 415 pounds and three 93-inch fish averaged 450 pounds indicating that they are much thinner in the spring in their more southern habitat than they are in summer to the northward.[97]

In the western side of the Mediterranean, where tuna run smaller than in our Gulf, a 500 pound fish is very large and this is equally true off the California coast. But tuna weighing as much as 1,595 pounds (725 kilograms), if the stated weights are reliable, have been reported from the eastern parts of the Mediterranean and from the Bosphorus near Constantinople.[98]


The tuna is a strong, swift fish and an oceanic wanderer like all its tribe. Probably its chief reason for holding to continental waters along our coasts during the warm seasons is that its prey are more concentrated there and hence more easily caught than over the ocean basin.

The small, medium, and fairly large-sized fish, up to 350-500 pounds or so, commonly travel in small schools of half a dozen to 30 or 40 fish, but sometimes in much larger schools, and each school is usually composed of fish of about the same size: we have never heard of large and small tuna schooling together. And it seems that the very large fish usually are solitary.[99]

When tuna are at the surface, as they often are, they are proverbial for their habit of jumping, either singly or in schools; they may do this when swimming about, or harrying smaller fishes, or less often, when traveling in a definite direction, in which case all that are jumping do so in the same direction.

Frank Mather, for instance, reports seeing a school of 200-pounders, jumping in unison, 2 or 3 feet clear of the water. When large tuna jump, they sometimes fall flat, making a great splash, but they reenter the water a little head-first as a rule, though they do not make as complete and graceful an arc in the air as the various oceanic kinds of porpoises usually do. When schools, at the surface, are not jumping, they often splash a good deal and they are conspicuous then. We remember, for instance, sighting a large school so employed, off the Cohasset shore at a distance of about 3 miles, on one occasion. Even if they are neither jumping nor splashing, as is more commonly the case, the wakes that large ones leave behind them betray their presence, if the sea is smooth.

They sometimes cut the surface with the sickle-shaped second dorsal fin and with the tip of the caudal fin, on calm days, and they have been photographed while so doing.[1] But we have not seen this and experienced tuna fishermen have told us that tuna are not often seen finning. In any case, it seems that the first dorsal fin is laid back, when they do fin; at least we have never heard of a tuna as showing both of its dorsals above the surface, except after it had been hooked.[2]

[page 341]

Tuna often break the surface when striking a bait, or they may even leap clear then. But for some reason they do not jump ordinarily after they are hooked, but first make one or more swift shallow runs and then tend to bore deep unless in very shallow water.

Tuna prey on smaller fishes, especially those of the schooling kinds, the particular species depending on the local supply. In the Gulf of Maine they destroy great numbers of herring, large and small; also mackerel of which they are often full. They have been reported as pursuing silver hake; 26 tuna contained these, out of 30, that were examined by Crane at Portland, Maine, in July 1936. She also reports a rosefish (Sebastes) in one. No doubt they take whatever small fishes are available locally, and a tuna has been known to swallow a whole dogfish as large as 8 pounds. Southward from Cape Cod they prey on menhaden, as predaceous fishes do in general. They also eat squid: Crane found squid, in two, at Portland, and quantities of euphausiid shrimps (Meganyctiphanes) in two others. It is not unusual for tuna to strand in pursuit of prey. But this is a timid fish and easily frightened though so voracious.

Tuna have no serious enemies in the Gulf of Maine, but killer whales take toll of them in Newfoundland waters where, writes Wulff[3] "one or more times annually, usually in September, orcas will ravage the tuna schools in the bays they frequent most."

The tuna is a fish of at least moderately warm seas. The smaller sizes seem rather closely restricted to regions where the surface layer is warmer than 60°-62°, and while large ones are regular visitors in summer to the eastern side of our Gulf where the water warms only to about 50°-54°, this, seemingly, is about the lower limit to the thermal range they favor.[4] Few tuna, for example, whether large or small, are seen in the Passamaquoddy region in most summers (p. 343) though the multitudes of small herring there would seem to offer ideal feeding conditions, but where the temperature rises only to about 52°-54° even by August, when it is highest. And seasonal chilling is generally accepted as the factor that drives them from our northern coasts in the autumn.

Tuna tolerate a wide range of salinity, and they run well up into bays, and even into harbors in pursuit of herring; the bays on the outer Nova Scotian coast for example; Bras D'or "lake," Cape Breton; Bonne Bay on the west coast of Newfoundland; and Trinity and Conception Bays on the southeastern coast of Newfoundland. But we have never heard of one entering brackish water.

Tuna are as definitely migratory as the mackerel is, those that visit our coasts working northward in spring, to drop out of sight again late in the autumn.[5] They are said to be around Jamaica throughout the year, but most plentiful there in March and April.[6] Ordinarily they appear earliest on the Bahaman side of the Straits of Florida in the first or second week in May; next off New Jersey, off Long Island, off southern New England, and in Cape Cod Bay in June. But they have been reported well within the Gulf of Maine by the last week of May (p. 342), or nearly as early as in Bahaman waters. This, with the added fact that they are not known to approach the American coast anywhere between the Bahama Channel and North Carolina or Virginia[7] suggests that we may have two separate populations, a southern and a northern.

They usually arrive in Bonne Bay, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast of Newfoundland in late June or in early July, and a week or two later in Trinity and Conception Bays, on the southeastern part of the Newfoundland coast.[8]

Finally, we should point out that it is not known yet whether the tuna populations of the two sides of the Atlantic are entirely separate, one from the other, or whether more or less interchange takes place between them.

The vertical range of the tuna is from the surface down to an indeterminate depth; the only barriers likely to limit their descent are the [page 342] low temperatures they would encounter in regions where there is a strong thermal gradient (the Gulf of Maine is an example, p. 344), the increasing scarcity of prey, and, perhaps, darkness.

The breeding habits of the tuna remained a mystery until recently. And while it is now known that those that visit the Mediterranean spawn in June and July, both the spawning grounds of our American tuna and their spawning season are yet to be learned.

The eggs (Mediterranean) are buoyant, small for so large a fish (1.05-1.12 mm. in diameter) with one oil globule of about 0.27 mm.

The larval stages have also been recorded in the Mediterranean in abundance; and the characters determined by which they may be distinguished from allied species.[9] Tuna fry of 3¼ inches (81 mm.) and about 6 inches (152 mm.) have also been pictured and are described from the Gulf of Mexico by Fowler.[10]

Rate of growth—

The rate of growth of so large a fish is naturally a matter of much interest. Young fry grow so rapidly that fish hatched in June in the Mediterranean reach a weight of a little less than ¾ pound to a little more than 1 pound (300-500 grams) by September. According to studies by Sella, based on the number of concentric rings in the vertebrae[11] for 1,500 individuals, Mediterranean tuna average about 10 pounds at 1 year of age, about 21 pounds at 2 years, about 35 to 36 pounds at 3 years, about 56 pounds at 4 years, about 88 pounds at 5 years, about 128 pounds at 6 years, about 170 pounds at 7 years, about 214 pounds at 8 years, about 265 pounds at 9 years, about 320 pounds at 10 years, about 375 pounds at 11 years, about 440 pounds at 12 years, about 517 pounds at 13 years, and 616 to 660 pounds at 14 years of age.

Average lengths of 20 to 24 inches in their second summer of growth, 27 to 34 inches in the third, 35 to 40 inches in the fourth, and 42 to 46 inches in the fifth, reported by Westman and Gilbert[12] suggest about the same growth rate for the American tuna. Thus the giants of 800 pounds and heavier have reached a very respectable age. According to Sella[13] Mediterranean tuna weighing only 35 pounds may already be sexually mature. But nothing definite is known about the American fish in this regard.

General range—

Warmer parts of the Atlantic (including the Mediterranean), Pacific and Indian Oceans;[14] north regularly to the western, southern and southeast coasts of Newfoundland,[15] on the western side of the Atlantic; to Iceland and northern Norway (Lofoten Islands) on the European side.

Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine—

The tuna is a yearly visitor to our Gulf. Every fisherman knows the tuna or horse mackerel, as it used to be called, and this great fish visits all parts of the Gulf of Maine, but we do not understand its comings and goings much better now than when Storer called attention to its abundance about Provincetown nearly a century ago. Scarcity is not to blame for this (it is common enough) but the fact that little attention was paid to it until recently for want of market value. And while a demand for tuna has developed of late, as is reflected in the catches (p. 346), and while many anglers now fish for them (p. 347), most of the resulting information is confined to the few inshore localities where they either seem to be the most plentiful, or where they are caught most easily from small craft, or incidentally in the fish traps.

It is now known that tuna are to be found all around the shores of the Gulf from Cape Cod to eastern Maine; in the Bay of Fundy; also along the west coast of Nova Scotia. And fishermen often report them on Nantucket Shoals, Georges Bank, and Browns. In ordinary years the first of them are likely to be seen as early in the season between Cape Ann and the Maine State line as they are off Cape Cod. In 1950, for example, the earliest report of them was off Hampton, N. H., May 26; the next off Plum Island, Mass., on June 9; and it was not until about June 16 that word came of one hooked in Cape Cod Bay, and of the first fish (one of 462 pounds) harpooned off Plum [page 343] Island. This may have been an early year. But tuna are to be expected throughout the western side of the Gulf generally by the middle or end of June, which is about as early as they ordinarily appear in any numbers off southern New England; and they appear on the Nova Scotian side of the Gulf by the first of July if not earlier. In 1950, for example, upwards of 450 had been landed from Ipswich Bay by July 31, the largest weighing 734 pounds.[16] The peak season usually is from about the middle or end of July to the middle of September off Massachusetts; July and August off Casco Bay; through August and September along western Nova Scotia.

The vicinity of Provincetown, with Cape Cod Bay, has long been known as a center of abundance for tuna. Other well known centers are from Cape Ann north to Boon Island and from the Ipswich Bay-Plum Island shore out to Jeffreys Ledge some 30 miles off shore; off the mouth of Casco Bay and for some distance thence eastward; and the vicinity of Wedgeport, on the west coast of Nova Scotia, where the International tuna matches are held. Fewer are seen along the eastern coast of Maine, though we are told that a fishery for tuna has developed during the current summer off Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island,[17] and in the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy.

It is especially interesting that there are so few tuna in the Passamaquoddy region in most years that the capture of even an occasional fish in the local weirs causes comment, for the astounding abundance of small herring there would seem to offer them an inexhaustible supply of food. But a summer comes now and then when they are far more plentiful there than usual; thus Passamaquoddy waters are said to have "teemed with tuna" in the summer of 1937[18] when as many as 7 were taken at Campobello in a single seining; and several were reported again and a few caught in Passamaquoddy Bay in the summer of 1945.[19]

Dr. Huntsman writes us that "schools" were reported there in the summer of 1951, when the water was warmer than usual. And Leslie Scattergood reports 22, ranging from 113 to 161 pounds, caught in a herring weir at Grand Manan during that October.

The regional contrasts in local abundance within our Gulf may be illustrated for a representative year by the reported catches of tuna by counties around the coast from southwest to northeast, for 1945.

Region Pounds
Barnstable (chiefly Cape Cod Bay) 301,000
Plymouth 600
Essex 50,300
York 45,300
Cumberland and Sagadahoc (vicinity of Casco Bay) 815,300
Lincoln 900
Knox (Penobscot Bay) 0
Hancock 0
Washington 0
Nova Scotia:
Annapolis 0
Yarmouth 35,800
Shelburne to Cape Sable 0

In most years the tuna that are seen and caught near Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, and in Cape Cod Bay, are small (so-called "school fish") weighing less than 200 pounds with many as small as 30 to 70 pounds; and few of those caught there in most years are large. The smallest reported in the inner part of the Gulf of Maine was a run of 20- to 26-pound fish (2-year-olds) taken in Cape Cod Bay in October 1950.[20] And good catches of "school" fish of 30-70 pounds, but few larger, if any, are being made again off the tip of Cape Cod around the shores of Cape Cod Bay at this writing (August 5, 1951), and have been for several weeks past. Large numbers of even smaller tuna, averaging about 11 pounds, have been encountered on the southwestern part of Georges Bank (p. 344), and many of these little ones (from 8 pounds or so upwards) are caught off southern New England every summer and autumn, especially near Block Island.[21] On the other hand, most of those found northward from Cape Ann, and in the Nova Scotian side of the Gulf are large, few of them as small as 100 pounds. Thus, the average live weights of 1,641 tuna that were landed at Portland, Maine, during the period 1926 to 1935, varied between 495 pounds [page 344] and about 630 pounds yearly, as appears from the following table.[22]

Year Number Largest Smallest Average
1926 90 945 416 515
1928 176 858 74 510
1929 152 905 447 630
1930 172 967 423 620
1931 107 840 420 565
1932 91 800 409 500
1933 162 909 93 495
1934 268 955 68 530
1935 423 913 33 525

Thirty-two fish caught at the mouth of Casco Bay in 1950 averaged 468 pounds, the heaviest 643 pounds;[23] the smallest among 34 measured by Crane,[24] at Portland, Maine, weighed 65 pounds, the heaviest 860 pounds. And many fish are taken of 700 pounds and heavier. Similarly, 23 tuna caught during the international match at Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, in the second week of August 1950, weighed from 362 pounds to 744 pounds, and 72 taken there during the match of the previous year averaged about 360 pounds, the largest weighing 857 pounds. Also, most of the tuna caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are rather large.

The reason for this regional segregation of tuna of different sizes is not known, or for the variation therein from year to year. We suspect that temperature is chiefly responsible; i. e., that the larger fish are more tolerant than the small of the lower temperatures prevailing in the northern and northeastern parts of the Gulf, and in more northerly regions. Especially suggestive in this connection is the fact that the tuna run so large off Wedgeport, western Nova Scotia, where the abundant herring offer excellent feeding conditions, but where the water does not ordinarily warm above about 54° F. along the open coast, though to a somewhat higher figure locally, in enclosed situations.

So many tuna come so very close inshore in Cape Cod Bay that nearly all of the commercial catch made there is taken in the traps; large schools have even been sighted within Provincetown Harbor (on October 11, 1950, for example[25]) and occasionally a tuna comes into the surf either to strip the reel of some surf fisherman or to be landed (p. 347). The tuna that are taken north of Cape Ann are farther out; all of them, however, are caught within 30 miles or so of the land, at farthest. And while a great concentration of tuna was encountered by the Albatross III on the southwestern part of Georges Bank, on September 18, 1950, when 25 were hooked and landed, all very small, about 11 pounds apiece, it is unusual to see any large number on the offshore banks.

The tuna that are seen or caught in our Gulf all are near the surface, or at least where the water is not more than 35 to 40 fathoms deep. How deep down they might be found is not known. But it is likely that they tend to keep within 50 fathoms or so of the surface, for the deeper water in the Gulf is colder than tuna appear to like (p. 341).

In some years the tuna appear to remain fairly stationary in whatever part of the Gulf they visit, for weeks at a time, as is indicated in the consistency of catches, or the sightings reported, which is equally true of them in Newfoundland waters, according to Wulff.[26] In other years they may disappear suddenly from one locality or another, after a brief stay, and without any apparent reason. In 1926, for example, when about 70 fish were taken in July off Casco Bay, only 17 were caught there in August, 3 in September, and only 1 in October (the 4th).[27] In 1950 they deserted the Ipswich Bay-Plum Island region during the last week of August, not to reappear there in any numbers that season, though they continued plentiful enough off the Maine coast farther north to be worth fishing for until the end of September, with some in the Cape Cod Bay-Provincetown region until early October.

There are tuna in good numbers along the outer Nova Scotia coast, off Shelburne, the vicinity of Liverpool at the mouth of the Mersey River, the mouth of the La Have River, Mahone Bay, and St. Margaret Bay being centers of abundance as appear from landings of 258,000 pounds in Lunenburg County and 201,000 pounds in Halifax County in 1950. A few, also, are seen and caught around Cape Breton. It was here that the record size fish was taken with rod and reel (p. 344).

Catch records suggest that only a few visit the southern side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence; 400 pounds were reported from the Gulf shore of Cape Breton in 1944, none in 1946, and it was only in one year (1925) that any were reported (975 pounds)[28] [page 345] from Prince Edward Island during the period 1917 to 1928. They may visit the west coast of Newfoundland more regularly; for Wulff speaks of them as common and gives a photograph of tuna finning at the surface in Bonne Bay,[29] but we have not heard anything to suggest that they are anywhere near so plentiful there as they are in Nova Scotian waters or southward. Wulff writes of them as "few" on the southern Newfoundland coast, at present; but they appear to be regular visitors to Conception and Trinity Bays on the southeast coast; Mr. Tibbetts informed us that he once saw an abundance of tuna in Notre Dame Bay, midway of the east coast of Newfoundland; and they are reported from Hamilton Inlet, Labrador, their most northerly known outpost on the American Coast of the Atlantic.

Most of the tuna disappear from the coasts of Maine and of northern Massachusetts by the end of September, or by the first part of October at the latest, depending on whether the season is an early one or a late.[30] But considerable numbers remain in Cape Cod Bay and around the tip of Cape Cod until well into October, or even into November in some years. Thus in 1950 large schools were seen in Provincetown Harbor, and more than 5,000 pounds of small fish, averaging about 75 pounds, were landed there on October 11,[31] while in 1949 about 2,000 pounds were caught nearby between November 1 and 14.

The dates of the earliest and latest catches, made by a set of 8 traps, at North Truro, Cape Cod Bay, during the period 1943 to 1952[32] are illustrative.

Year Earliest catch Latest catch
1943 July 8 Oct. 6
1944 June 29
1945 June 25 Oct. 9
1946 June 15 Oct. 26
1947 June 21 Oct. 28
1948 June 11 Oct. 28
1949 June 7 Nov. 14
1951 July 7 Oct. 15
1952 June 24 Oct. 24

The monthly catches, by these same traps, mark July and August as the most productive months. The number of pounds of tuna (dressed weight) follows:

Month Largest catch Smallest catch
June 17,520 0
July 148,139 12,255
August 185,305 5,029
September 70,125 [33]2,365
October 43,603 330
November[34] 2,197 0

[33] The year 1944 is omitted from the calculation for September-November because the traps were not fished after September 14th that year.

[34] The only catch recorded for November was 2,197 pounds in 1949.

Catches have also been reported along western Nova Scotia as late as the third week in October, and Wulff writes of tuna lingering through the month in the bays of Newfoundland, which is as late as they remain in any part of our Gulf.

Tuna are never reported as seen moving southward on their way out of the Gulf to their winter quarters; they drop just out of sight.

The wintering grounds of the particular bodies of tuna that summer in the Gulf of Maine, and of those that go farther east and north, are not known. Small (20-50 lb.) fish, it is true, have been caught occasionally in coastal waters off southern New England from January to March; off Block Island, for example, in 1928.[35] But the bulk of the northern contingents certainly travel farther. It is probable that they winter in deep water as the Mediterranean tuna do, perhaps along the continental slope off our Middle Atlantic coast, perhaps so much farther south that some of the tuna seen (and caught) in spring in the Straits of Florida are our Gulf of Maine and Nova Scotian fish, on their way north again.

We are equally in the dark as to the spawning grounds of the American tuna, for although the Gulf of Maine fish are of breeding age, no ripe ones have ever been seen off the New England or Canadian coasts, or even fish approaching ripeness.


We dare not guess how many tuna are in our Gulf in any summer, there being no way to estimate how large a proportion of them the yearly catch represents. We suspect that they are fewer than reports would suggest, for being so large, a few hundred of them make a great show if they are at the surface, whereas an equal number of mackerel, for instance, would never be noticed. Neither is any definite information available as to their annual fluctuations in [page 346] abundance, though fishermen are well aware that their numbers in any part of the Gulf do vary widely from year to year. Thus it is on record that they were scarce in the Massachusetts Bay region for two or three years prior to 1904, but were plentiful that summer. Commercial landings suggest that they were scarce again in 1943, when the landings came to only about 380,000 pounds for Maine and Massachusetts combined.[36]

But they appear to have been much more plentiful again off the Maine coast in 1945 (catch there about 850,000 lb.); more plentiful than they have been since, if the commercial landings are a reliable index to the ups and downs of the tuna population, which they may not be. The following catch statistics of tuna landings (in pounds) suggest that the stock built up more slowly, from the 1943 low in Massachusetts waters, to a peak in 1948, which was a big year on the Ipswich Bay grounds (p. 343), as well as in Cape Cod Bay.

Year Maine Massachusetts
1943 25,000 129,500
1944 463,500 272,900
1945 859,500 356,400
1946 421,800 571,100
1947 186,600 726,400
1948 229,100 1,627,000

In 1949, the catch by traps in Cape Cod Bay alone was 811,160 pounds, suggesting a total of more than a million pounds from the Gulf of Maine coast of Massachusetts.

During that banner season 2,164 large tuna were taken on hand lines where the draggers work, off Ipswich Bay; while 806 fish (305,300 lb.) were taken off Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, in 1948, 1,760 fish (449,362 lb.) in 1949.

But they were scarce in 1950, to judge from reports coming in from all along our coast: a week's fishing, for instance, by the same number of rods and at about the same date, yielded only about half as many on the famous Soldiers Reef off Wedgeport during the International Match that summer as it had the year before. Many fewer were caught by anglers in Cape Cod Bay in 1950 than in 1949, and the tuna disappeared from the Ipswich Bay region unusually early that year, as noted above (p. 344). It is too early (August 5) to forecast how the 1951 season may develop.

The largest Gulf of Maine catches of which we have heard were of 336 fish, weighing about 75,000 pounds taken at one lift of 3 traps set for mackerel on the Barnstable shore of Cape Cod Bay, Aug. 5, 1948;[37] and of 120,000 pounds of fish ranging from 25 to 30 pounds seined some 50 miles east of Cape Cod on September 18, 1951, by the Western Explorer, chartered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for experimental fishing for tuna.


Horse mackerel were formerly regarded as a nuisance on the Atlantic coast, for bands of them made trouble for fishermen by following herring or mackerel into the traps and pounds, to tear their way out again through the net unless harpooned. Many years ago, when fish oil was more valuable than now, a few were sometimes harpooned for oil, which was tried out of the heads and bellies, but there was no sale for their meat. The tuna, however, has been highly valued as a food fish for many years, not only in the Mediterranean, but on the west coast of the United States. And a local demand has developed on our coast, supplied chiefly by local fisheries off Casco Bay, in the Cape Ann-Boone Island region, and in the Cape Cod Bay region.

With this increasing demand, the reported landings on the Maine and Massachusetts coasts have risen from about 94,000 pounds in 1919, to around 250,000 pounds yearly in the early 1930's, and to about 1 to nearly 2 million pounds for the years 1945 to 1948, this last representing around 3,000-6,000 fish, if they averaged 300-400 pounds in weight (see table, p. 346). The average value to the fisherman in 1946 was about 7-9 cents per pound and all that are caught now sell readily. The annual catches off the entire coast of Nova Scotia ranged from 152,000 pounds to about 1,550,000 pounds during the period 1917 to 1928; from 402,000 to 1,820,000 pounds for the 5 years 1942-46.

The commercial catch off the coasts of Maine is made mostly by harpoon; that off northern Massachusetts by hook and line and by harpoon; that off the Cape Cod Bay region mostly in the traps.[38]

[page 347]

But experiments are in progress, by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to find whether a profitable seine fishery or long line fishery can be developed for these great fish in our Gulf, with the hope of providing a more dependable supply, and through a longer season.

The sporting qualities of the tuna in our Gulf deserve a word, though an extended account would be out of place here. Encouraged by the famous tuna fishing off the coast of southern California, and by the knowledge that tuna run much larger in the Gulf of Maine than they do on the Pacific coast, several anglers had caught these huge fish with light tackle at various points in New England and Nova Scotia by 1925, when the first edition of this book appeared. Small tuna will often take artificial lures especially if trolled at high speed and close to the vessel's stern, while large ones will take a hook baited with herring, mackerel, or other fish. And tuna fishing has now grown to be so popular and successful a sport that many party boats go out regularly off Provincetown, in Cape Cod Bay, to the Ipswich Bay-Isles of Shoals-Boone Island region, off Casco Bay, and off Wedgeport on the Nova Scotian side.[39]

To date, the largest tuna that has been landed on rod and reel in the Gulf of Maine was one of 932 pounds, caught by H. E. Teller at Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, September 11, 1951 (p. 340). Another of 927 pounds was caught in Ipswich Bay, August 4, 1940, by Dr. J. B. Vernaglia. We have heard of one of 180 pounds landed with ordinary surfcasting tackle on the beach at Plum Island, a notable feat.[40] Even a small tuna, such as a thirty-pounder that was caught on a black plug by Wm. Lakaitis, surf casting at North Truro on the night of July 28, 1951, is a far stronger adversary in the surf than a striped bass of equal size.

[89] A comprehensive list of publications dealing with the tuna is given by Corwin, Division Fish and Game of California, Fish Bull. No. 22, 1930.

[90] The tunas and their allies are discussed by Jordan and Evermann (Occas. Papers, Cal. Acad. Sci. vol. 12, 1926); Fraser-Brunner (Annals and Magazine Nat. Hist., Ser. 12, vol. 3, 1950, pp. 142-146) has recently given a convenient key to all known species of tunas, with excellent illustrations; and Godsil and Holmberg have recently discussed the relationships of the bluefin tunas of New England, Australia, and California (Fish. Bull. 77, California Dept. Nat. Resources, 1950).

[91] The foregoing description of the color is based on accounts of freshly caught tuna by Storer (Fishes of Massachusetts, 1867, p. 65) and by Nichols (Copeia, No. 111, 1922, pp. 73-74); and on fish we have seen.

[92] Internat. Rev. Gesamten Hydrobiol. Hydrogr., vol. 25, Pt. 1-2, 1931, p. 60.

[93] Caught by Comm. D. W. Hodson at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, September 4, 1950.

[94] Reported in Salt Water Sportsman, for Oct. 1, 1951.

[95] Caught near Jordan Ferry, Nova Scotia, by Alfred Kenny in 1950.

[96] Zoologica, New York Zool. Soc., vol. 21, No. 16, 1936, p. 207.

[97] These records are from unpublished data furnished by Frank Mather of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Howard Schuck of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who have given us much first-hand information on the habits of the tuna.

[98] Heldt, 10 Rapp. Comm. Internat. Explor. Medit., vol. 11, 1938, p. 343.

[99] Crane (Zoologica, New York Zool. Soc., vol. 21, 1936, pp. 207-211) has given a readable account of the tuna off Casco Bay, which we cannot better, and with which our own sightings of tuna agree.

[1] See Farrington (Fishing the Atlantic, 1950 [approximate date], upper photo facing p. 421), for an excellent photograph of a tuna finning.

[2] See Farrington (Fishing the Atlantic, 195O [approximate date], lower photo facing p. 421), for an excellent photograph of a hooked tuna showing the first dorsal fin as well as the second dorsal.

[3] Internat. Game Fish Assoc. Yearbook, 1945, p. 65.

[4] The tuna that visit the west coast of Newfoundland find summer tempertures as high as 59°-60° along the south coast of Newfoundland, and 55°-57° in Trinity and Conception Bays on the southeastern part of the Newfoundland coast.

[5] See Heldt (Bull. No. 5, Station Oceanographique de Salambo, 1926), and Sella (Int. Rev. Hydrobiol., Hydrogr., vol. 24, 1930, p. 446) for accounts of the migration and food of tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic.

[6] Information contributed by Capts. Eddie Wall and Walter Whiteman, for which we are indebted to Frank Mather of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

[7] Frank Mather of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution informs us that a 600-pound tuna has been taken in a trap 200 miles south of Chincoteague, Md., and that small ones are taken off Chincoteague. "Tuna" are reported from time to time off North Carolina, also. But it is not yet certain whether these actually are "bluefins."

[8] Wulff, Internat. Game Fish Assoc. Yearbook, 1943, p. 65.

[9] See Sella (Atti Reale accad. Lincei, Roma, Ser. 5, vol. 33, Fasc. 7-8, semestr. 1, 1924, p. 300) and Sanzo (R. Comit. Talass. Ital. Mem., No. 189, 1932) for description of the larvae; Heldt (Bulls. 5 and 18, Station Oceanographique Salambo, 1926 and 1930) for summaries of all previous observations on the breeding habits and larval stages.

[10] Monogr. 6, Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, 1944, pp. 261, 373.

[11] Memoria No. 166, R. Comitato Thalassografico Italiano, 1929, p. 10.

[12] Copeia, 1941, pp. 70-72, based on length frequencies for those up to 3 years of age and on scale studies for the older ones.

[13] Memoria No. 156, R. Comitato Thalassografico Italiano, 1929, p. 6.

[14] Sella's recent studies (Internat. Rev. Ges. Hydrobiol., Hydrogr, vol. 26, 1931, pp. 48-50) showed no characteristic differences between the bluefin tuna of the two sides of the Atlantic, and those of different oceans appear, at most, to represent races of a single wide-ranging species.

[15] Vesey-Fitzgerald and Lamonte (Game Fishes of the World, 1949, p. 183) report tuna from Hamilton Inlet.

[16] Reported by Henry Moore in the Boston Herald, July 31, 1950.

[17] Information supplied by Frank Mather, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

[18] Atlantic Fisherman, vol. 18, No. 9, October 1937, p. 28.

[19] Atlantic Fisherman, vol. 26, No. 8, September 1945, p. 52.

[20] Reported by Frank Mather of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

[21] Frank Mather, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, reports a catch of 110 of them, weighing about 10 pounds, off No Mans Land, on September 16, 1951.

[22] Data gathered by the late W. H. Rich of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.

[23] Caught by Capt. Earl Larrabee; reported in Saltwater Sportsman for Aug. 25, 1950.

[24] Zoologica. New York Zool. Soc., vol. 21, No. 16, 1936, p. 207.

[25] Reported in Cape Cod Standard Times, October 11, 1950.

[26] International Game Fish Assoc., Yearbook, 1943, p. 65.

[27] Data from Walter H. Rich of Portland, Maine.

[28] Sella, Internat. Rev. Ges. Hydrobiol., Hydrogr., vol. 25, 1931, p. 50.

[29] Internat. Game Fish Assoc. Yearbook, 1943, p. 66.

[30] In 1950 seven tuna of 200-300 pounds were caught off Boars Head, Maine, during the first week of October.

[31] Reported in Cape Cod Standard Times, October 11, 1950.

[32] Information contributed by the Pond Village Cold Storage Co.

[35] Sella, Internat. Rev. Gesamten Hydrobiol., Hydrogr., vol. 25, 1931, p. 62.

[36] The weights given in the Fisheries statistics are for the dressed fish, and represent about 80 percent of the live weight.

[37] A photograph of part of the catch was published in the Boston Herald, August 6, 1948.

[38] In 1945 about 60 percent of the catch reported for Maine was by harpoon, almost all the remainder on hand lines; in 1946 about 98 percent was harpooned. About 86 percent of the Massachusetts catch was taken in traps of one sort or another in 1945, about 90 percent in 1946.

[39] Farrington (Field and Stream magazine for August 1950, p. 84) has recently given an interesting account of the methods employed by rod and reel anglers, in these localities. Crane (Zoologica, N. Y. Zool. Soc., vol. 21, No. 16, 1936, p. 210) describes in a readable way the small boat harpoon fishing for tuna off Casco Bay, Maine.

[40] Landed on August 12, 1950, by M. L. Insleyn.