Let’s go fishin’: Tuna fleet follows fish to Santa Cruz
by Mike Baxter
Oct 17, 2013 | 2309 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

A small fleet of albacore tuna boats is anchored in the lee of Point Santa Cruz. The vessels appearance raised questions and curiosity. The history and lore of these vessels radiates from them.

I remember several years back, steaming into the bay after fishing for rockfish up the coast under restricted visibility due to thick fog. As I made my way around the lighthouse and past the wharf, the fog lifted and I found myself amongst these legends. There was a fleet of eight boats all of which were pole and line albacore boats. I was in awe of these masters of the tuna trade, which are as pelagic and nomadic as the fish they chase. The albacore tuna is one of the most highly migratory fish in the Pacific Ocean and these boats follow their patterns.

These sea captains and their crafts define the words self-sufficient as they catch their own bait with small hand nets. The bait is then kept alive and used as “chum” to lure the albacore to the boat. When the albacore are feeding heavily, the fishermen then lift pole the fish right into the boat. This is a highly sustainable fishery and consists of very little to zero bycatch.

This group of boats stopped by the Monterey Bay after leaving the Columbia River in Washington after several cold fronts swept through the region with no sign of a weakening jet stream. The fleet started working south. They held live bait catching albacore. They had to juggle what the elements would offer. The albacore season in Oregon and Washington was shorter than prior years due to weather. They headed south because October can yield albacore along the central coast of California some years.

I was able to visit with Jack Webster, owner and captain aboard the Millie G. Jack told tales of the seasons hardships and where his golden product goes. Jack, and many of the boats in the fleet he works with, are a part of the American Albacore Fishing Association. Jack’s boat, and a handful of other boats, work directly with the canners and have their pole and line caught fish canned with the American Tuna label which signifies sustainably-caught tuna.

I had worked for Jack years back aboard a different boat and had always held him as a mentor and special person in my life. I wanted to pass along the story of the boats as their lore runs as deep as the keels of their vessels.

- Mike Baxter has fished in the Monterey Bay Area since he was a boy and has been a licensed charter boat captain for more than 20 years. Contact him at captmikebaxter@yahoo.com.

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