Although recreational fishing dominates Island chatter with the derby on this month, talk up and down Squid Row in Menemsha on Tuesday afternoon was of a decidedly commercial catch.
Tim Walsh, 26, captain of the Helen L., and mate Miles Whyte, 30, landed a 1,100-pound giant Atlantic bluefin tuna during a three-day fishing trip off of Cape Cod. The two men, who both live in West Tisbury (Mr. Walsh grew up in Menemsha), were miles out from Chatham when they first hooked the fish at about four in the afternoon on one of the several Penn 130 rods Mr. Walsh has affixed to his boat. They had been anchored for two days.
“It took probably 500 yards off [the line],” Mr. Whyte said. “We had 20 left, and just managed to turn it.”
They said it took eight hours to bring the giant bluefin alongside the 47-foot vessel and harpoon it. “When we looked at the clock, it was midnight,” Mr. Walsh said. He was so caught up in reeling in the bluefin that he didn’t realize until later that they’d caught the fish on his birthday, Oct. 8.
According to National Geographic, the largest Atlantic bluefin tuna caught on a rod and reel in Massachusetts waters weighed 1,228 pounds. An average Atlantic bluefin weighs about 550 pounds; it is the largest of the tuna species. Purse seining — nets entrapping entire schools of fish — depleted large stocks of bluefin after the market took off in the 1960s. The fish is still listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as a species of concern. Western Atlantic stocks are stable, unlike those in the Mediterranean, but full recovery depends on strict fisherman compliance with International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas regulations. Mr. Walsh fishes with a commercial permit for hand gear — using rod and reel is “the method I know,” he said.
The bluefin was not on board when the Helen L. returned to port — Mr. Whyte showed photos from his phone to onlookers, who offered congratulations and marveled at the tuna’s size. The fish itself was sold to Red’s Best, a wholesale fish company in Boston that partners with local wholesalers Menemsha Fish House. After being picked up in Woods Hole, the giant bluefin is now on its way to Japan (Japan is the largest consumer of bluefin tuna in the world). “They move them pretty quickly,” Mr. Walsh said.
“Alec Gale [of Menemsha Fish House] — he’s been huge, he helped me out a lot,” Mr. Walsh said.
The trip into the Atlantic was only the third that the Helen L. has taken — the first two were to more southerly waters, in search of yellowfin tuna. Mr. Walsh spent the past four years saving money to buy a fishing boat, and purchased “the biggest boat I could afford” a year ago. The Constantino L. (“I was not okay with that name,” Mr. Walsh said; he renamed the boat after his mother, Helen) came from Cape May, New Jersey, and needed “a ton of work.” But it was all his.
“I’ve worked on other people’s boats and my dad’s boat, but the goal was always to get my own offshore boat,” he said. Mr. Walsh worked 10 to 12 hours every day to make the boat seaworthy and comfortable, replacing rails, removing the wheelhouse, and cutting the deck out. “People don’t recognize it [now],” he said.
The boat, in fact, wasn’t fully set up to bring back a half-ton fish. “We were set up enough to get an average-sized giant,” Mr. Walsh said. The original plan was to come back with a catch and earn enough money to finish up the rest of the boat work.
“Menemsha’s a tight-knit community, and everyone’s been watching me work on that boat,” said Mr. Walsh, who used to work at Menemsha Texaco and on the harbor. “It’s nice to come home and you’re not just going to some marina where you talk to one or two people . . . it’s a huge welcoming party.”
Mr. Walsh and Mr. Whyte will not find out until later this week how much their fish, which weighed about 800 pounds after it had been prepared for shipment, sold for on the Japanese markets. Shipping overseas is a bit of a gamble, because of the delay in learning market value, but taking risks is a given in the fishing world.
“I’ve been waiting for all of this to pay off,” Mr. Walsh said. “It feels good to finally be ahead of the ball.”