Feds seize 881-pound tuna from hapless fisherman

A lucky fisherman in Massachusetts recently caught a tuna weighing a whopping 881-pounds. Unfortunately, his excitement didn’t last all that long – because the feds confiscated the giant fish.

According to Cape Cod Times, New Bedford’s Carlos Rafael was excited when his crew notified him that they had unintentionally caught a giant bluefin tuna with their trawl gear. They were fishing offshore and had no idea the monster fish was lurking about.


“They didn’t catch that fish on the bottom,” he said. “They probably got it in the mid­water when they were setting out and it just got corralled in the net. That only happens once in a blue moon.”


Rafael is well-known in the local fishing industry and in the last few years he’s gone by the book and purchased 15 tuna permits just in case he happened to snag one. When he found out they had a giant bluefin in their net, he called fishery regulators to report he catch.


When the weather started getting bad the crew of his ship—the Apollo—choose to shelter themselves in Provincetown Harbor on Nov. 12. Rafael got in his truck and hurried to meet the boat.


“I wanted to sell the [tuna] while it was fresh instead of letting it age on the boat,” he said. “It was a beautiful fish.”


They’re also expensive fish. In January a 754­ pounder was auctioned off in Tokyo for almost $396,000. The world record for these huge fish was set in 1979 when a 1,496-pound specimen was caught off Nova Scotia.    


Unfortunately when Rafael got to the dock to look at the fish he was met by the feds. Yes, agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement told him that they were seizing his fish, and there was nothing he could do about it.


It didn’t matter to the feds that the catch had been declared and they had a tuna permit. The rules say that fisherman cannot catch bluefin tuna in a net, not even unintentionally.


“They said it had to be caught with rod and reel,” a frustrated Rafael said. “We didn’t try to hide anything. We did everything by the book. Nobody ever told me we couldn’t catch it with a net.”


The fish was already dead because it was towed for more than two hours in the net, he said.


“What are we supposed to do?” he asked. “They said they were going to give me a warn­ing… I think I’m going to surrender all my tuna permits now. What good are they if I can’t catch them?”


No charges have been filed and it is expected that a written warning is coming, said Christine Patrick, a public affairs specialist with NOAA who said the fish has been forfeited and will be sold on consignment overseas. The profits from the epic fish will be held in an account until the case is resolved.


There is no information on what the total value of the fish ended up at.


“The matter is still under investigation,” said Monica Allen, deputy director with NOAA Fisheries public affairs. If it’s determined that there has been a violation, the money will go into the asset forfeiture fund.”