What happened to the 2016 tuna?

Travels of the Tuna Boat “Estevan” in 2016.

After a pretty good season in 2015, the crew were ready to do it again, and maybe even better.

There were reports of good fishing in the beginning of June, in mid Oregon, and not too far offshore. With the US and Canadian treaty, Canadian boats can’t start till June 15th in US waters; we started on July 1st in the Washington offshore waters. Fishing was not as good as the year before, but OK and fortunately the weather was not too rough. Worked our way down to off the Columbia River 80-100 miles offshore, a few good days, and hoping for better things.

With last year’s shortage of fish, and none available at the start of 2016, wholesale prices hit $3.50 per lb. In the same time frame in 2015 it was $1.40. We took our first small load to Victoria and took the money. Hoping for better fishing, little did we know, that fishing never improved.

That was pretty well all of July gone. In August, the winds never seemed to stop 20-30 knots. One calm day out of 5-6 rough ones doesn’t help the daily catch either.

There were some real differences in ocean conditions from the year before, the strangest one to me was the complete lack of eelgrass floating around offshore. In 2015 the lines always had to be pulled in and checked every 15-45 minutes to remove the drifting eelgrass from the hooks. But in 2016, no eelgrass; we could leave the lines out a week without catching any grass. Eelgrass grows in shallow water at least 50 miles from where we fish. Something has occurred in the shallow water where most of the forage fish come from. All those small fish that tuna and salmon consume during their life cycle were very much absent. These conditions were much the same over the whole Pacific Northwest.

Last year I mentioned how the offshore waters were teeming with life, with our big lights on at night, there were whales, porpoises, birds and fish jumping all around the boat while drifting at night. This year all there was at night was the reflection of the lights off the water, not quite a desert, but close.

Lots of theories as to why… Chinese long liners on the other side of the Pacific get a lot of press… could be, but that doesn’t explain the lack of food fish, that is coast wide. Obviously not a lot of Albacore came from the western tropical Pacific to North America, I guess they stayed where they had more to eat. Wish we knew where that was, and why were the salmon returns as mystifying?

So, now the season is over, huge shortage of fish in the market place, high prices make up for a bit, but still no fish, no money. In my many years of Tuna fishing, I have never seen such a season as this.

We hope for a better season in 2017, but have to believe there was a profound difference in ocean conditions over 6 months, and not just water temperatures. It is what is swimming, or the lack of it swimming, in our oceans that makes the difference.

From the Crew of the Estevan
Bruce, Tristan, and Chance.