Little Fish Make Big Fish
The giants returned to New York this year.
I’m not talking about those quasi New Yorkers who don pads and helmets and make their home out in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I’m talking about the real native giants: Atlantic bluefin tuna which throughout the fall of 2021 stormed the waters of the New York Bight, sometimes finding their way onto the hooks of anglers fishing within sight of the Statue of Liberty.
The largest of the family Scrombidae capable of reaching more than 1000 pounds and swimming at more than forty miles per hour, bluefin had been in steady decline in our waters for a large portion of the last fifty years. The decline is certainly due to direct over fishing of the species itself. Being a mixed stock with migrators coming from the tragically overfished Mediterranean as well as the oil-zonked Gulf of Mexico, these oversized bullet-shaped fish have had to dodge their share of bullets. Improved management on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years has undoubtedly had a role to play in what has been a slow but steady increase in the last few years. Climate change too is changing migratory patterns and northern countries like the United Kingdom have also seen bursts of bluefin this year.
The “reduction industry” that turns all this wildlife into animal feed and dietary supplements still takes more than 20 million metric tons of fish from the global oceans every year — around a quarter of all fish caught annually.
But having written about fisheries for the last twenty years and having observed the different things that factor into a fish’s success or failure leads me to believe that one undeniable change is driving this sudden abundance: the return of what bluefin like to eat best. That fish is an ignominious, oily, boney little animal called the Atlantic menhaden.
Nearly every fish a fish eater likes to eat eats menhaden. Striped bass, northern bluefish, southern redfish and every major predator in between. Whales too make a meal of them, which is why along with the bluefin, I saw pods of humpbacks…