Records are meant to be broken. Big fish are meant to be caught.
Both happened simultaneously down in Texas earlier this month when a crew on Captain Justin Drummond’s boat Qualified broke the Texas state bluefin tuna record with an incredible 876-pound whopper.
The fish measured more than 10 feet long and was hauled in more than 150 miles offshore.
The monster fish reportedly fought the fishermen with everything it had for 9 straight hours before finally being pulled aboard. While most fish can be filleted in just a few minutes, it took an additional 3 hours just to clean the record-breaking tuna.
Behind the scenes of hanging the pending bluefin tuna Texas state record holder then sending it to the fish house to be…
It is the second time in two years that the record has been broken.
Last year, Captain Robert Nichols hauled an 820-pound tuna onto his boat, Rock Mama off the coast of Galveston. That broke the previous state record of 808 lbs, which had been on the books since 1985.
Troy Lancaster from Port Aransas is the angler credited with catching the record-breaking fish. He recounted the experience in an interview recently featured by MeatEater.
“She nearly spooled us. Not completely but got us down to the backing three different times,” Lancaster said. “She had complete control the first three or four hours. It was anything she wanted to do, she did.”
The fish dragged the boat 8 miles, with Lancaster battling for hours and hours. But, they got lucky… as the massive tuna got its tail wrapped in the line and died.
“Tuna are what’s called “ram ventilators,” which means that water has to be flowing through their mouth and over their gills to breathe. They can’t fan their gills like many other fishes and will die if they stop moving.”
But, that’s where the luck ran out:
“The unfortunate thing is, an almost 900-pound fish isn’t buoyant. So, we spent two hours just pulling real slow to kind of help lift the fish up in the water column, and then backed down really hard to pull out that scope. That’s the only way we were able to gain any line.”
Finally, some 9 hours later, they got the tuna to the surface.
“So, it wasn’t a big dramatic battle at the transom, except for the fact that we had seven guys on the boat—one of them that wasn’t worth a shit, and that was me—to try and get the fish into the boat.
We wound up spending almost an hour and a half trying to get the fish in the boat. But we finally got it in and had a huge celebration, great times for everybody.”
While this particular fish is certainly something to be celebrated, it’s also an important reminder that the long-term sustainability of Atlantic bluefins is still somewhat murky.
The high demand for high-quality tuna meat and their massive size made bluefin tuna one of the most overfished species in the ocean for decades, which eventually caused the population to drop precipitously. Their numbers are now intensively monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which sets quotas and determines season dates for tuna fishing.
Intentionally targeting the species while recreational fishing is actually prohibited, but given that anglers can’t exactly control the specific fish that wind up on the end of their lines, recreational fishing vessels are permitted to keep one bluefin tuna a year provided it exceeds the 73-inch minimum.
In the 1970s and ’80s, their numbers dropped by as much as 80%, setting off alarm bells and initiating a variety of measures aimed at protecting the species, including seasonal closures, stricter fishing limits, and other incentives to prevent both commercial operations and recreational anglers from accidentally catching the fish.
These efforts continued up through the 1990s, eventually paying off in a big way. Atlantic bluefin tuna numbers increased every year from 2004 – 2017, and in 2019 their population had rebounded by an estimated 60% compared to their lowest levels decades prior.
Bluefin tuna spawn during the spring in the Gulf of Mexico before migrating up the Atlantic seaboard to the eastern shores of Canada before eventually making their seasonal roundtrip back down south.
However, one of the biggest bluefin tuna in the sea won’t be making that trip this year. That particular fish will, however, go down in history as the largest bluefin tuna in Texas state history.