Rare bluefin tuna caught by Pukapuka fishermen

Monday 18 January 2021 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in National, Outer Islands

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Rare bluefin tuna caught by Pukapuka fishermen
Teatu Siva Tauia, the owner of the boat, and his best mate Tepania Puiki battled for about four hours to reel in the 113-kilogramme prized bluefin tuna on Saturday. Kolee Tinga (Pukapuka TV)/21011703

The two fishermen could not believe their luck when they landed rare bluefin tuna near the northern group island over the weekend.

Teatu Siva Tauia, the owner of the boat, and his best mate Tepania Puiki battled for about four hours to reel in the 113-kilogramme prized fish. They were out fishing with other fishermen from the island on Saturday.

According to Kolee Tinga of Pukapuka TV, the last time someone from the island caught a bluefin tuna was more than 50 years ago.

The two fishermen used 60 to 80 pound fishing line, which is normally used to catch fish from the deep ocean.

“Every Saturday, men go out fishing ready for Sunday (lunch). During the last couple of weeks when they went out fishing, some of them returned with one or two or sometimes nothing because every fish they caught were eaten by the sharks,” Tinga said.

“Some fishermen caught nine or more tuna but they were all eaten by the sharks. This is a problem we have here on the island, sharks everywhere.”

But on Saturday, Tauia and Puiki were lucky. They not only landed the rare catch but also managed to save it from the scavenging sharks.

The two struggled for couple of hours before another fisherman Katipare Vigo (Tauia’s older brother) came to their rescue.

They used gaffs and rope to get the fish in the boat.

“The tuna weighed 113kg (1.75 metres long). The two Pukapuka marine officer came to see the fish and confirmed it was bluefin tuna (or maybe Pacific bluefin tuna). It is called Tani in Pukapuka.”

The fish was taken to the owner’s house, cleaned and shared with the Aronga Taoanga (chief) of the island and others.

Bluefin tuna is considered the world’s most expensive fish.

In 2019, a Japanese sushi tycoon paid a whopping $3.1 million (NZ$4.35 million) for a giant tuna weighing 278kg at an auction in Tokyo.

As of January 8, the price of bluefin tuna at Japanese market was JPY 19,980 (NZ$270.54) per kilogramme.

But Don Beer, president of Cook Islands Fishing Association, said bluefin tuna could only be sold if it is “prepared and iced well”.

“Fish that size really needs to be looked after well, they have to be bled, gutted and put it in ice before it is good for sale.”

Beer says it’s rare for bluefin tuna to be found in northern waters.

“We do catch them here in Rarotonga but occasionally. They are in the waters south of us, more south of Mangaia. They are normally in cooler temperature so I was very surprised to hear one caught in Pukapuka.”

According to local marine scientist Dr Teina Rongo: “The moderate to strong La Niña conditions we are currently experiencing suggest that commercial fishing would be focused around the Western Pacific.  This possible shift of fishing effort would allow bigger fish to come near the islands in our area of the Central Pacific.”

“Interestingly, I have noted a similar trend.  Larger tuna sizes 60 kg plus were caught by local fisherman on Rarotonga several years ago also during a La Niña event. This suggests if commercial fishing efforts drop in our area, larger tuna would come through. This begs the question what are our priorities?”