It was a true Marblehead fishing expedition as Capt. Scott Edwards took off from the Boston Yacht Club with crew members Dan Drabkin and Gavin Dowley on August 10. Edwards wanted to get an early start as it was the last day for commercial tuna fishing before the quota season closed until September, so they departed the dock at 4am.
This was only the second time that Drabkin and Dowley had crewed for Edwards on his 27-foot Southport, the Keeper. Both juniors in college, they spend their summers working for Tomo’s Tackle, the saltwater specialty tackle shop in Salem, MA which is a popular hangout for tuna and striped bass fishermen.
The Keeper steamed 26 miles northeast to the Stellwagen Bank. The federally protected marine sanctuary between Cape Cod and Cape Anne is a popular feeding ground for many marine species, especially tuna and whales. They arrived before sunrise, which Edwards says is often a good time to get a hookup. After anchoring, three lines were baited with mackerel and deployed at three different depths, to no avail. Instead they were kept busy removing blue sharks and a spiny dogfish from the lines.
“it’s a constant battle to keep the lines clear,” Edwards said. “The sharks and dogfish keep eating the bait.”
The first bit of encouraging news came when the boat next door hooked up at about 9 am. They took off, traveling about two miles in pursuit and returning victorious two and a half hours later.
Then at noon, one of the Keeper’s lines went screaming off. With an initial run of 300 to 400 yards, Edwards knew they had hooked a big one. They reeled in the other two lines, and took the fish up to the bow. Drabkin and Dowley got to work, taking turns reeling it in for the next two hours, doing 15 minutes each.
“We probably could have gone longer.” Dowley said. “But it was a good way to save energy as you never know how long they are going to fight for.”
The fish had taken them two miles from their starting point before they could get it close enough to harpoon. Then they put a gaff hook in the jaw and swam it around on a dock line.
“This calms the fish down,” explained Edwards. “And it gets rid of the lactic acid which has built up during the fight.”
Next Stop: Japan
After the boat-side swim, the gills were sliced and the blood drained. Because of its length, which turned out to be 110 inches, it was really difficult to get on board.
“We got it as high as we could on the block and tackle but it still took the three of us to get the tail over the rail and flop it into the boat,” Edwards said.
Then it was time to process the fish, using a reciprocating saw to clean it and pack it in ice before pulling anchor and taking off for Gloucester. Once in port, it is hauled off the boat, weighed and measured. The head and tail are removed and it is dressed for sale.
The dressed bluefin (without the head and tail) weighed in at 513 pounds. The tuna was then packed in salt water ice in a “coffin box,” and taken to Logan International Airport for a flight to Tokyo. Less than 24 hours after being landed it was at the Tokyo fish market. Known as “Boston tuna,” and prized for its high fat content, it can be sold for as much as $20 a pound.
“This is certainly the longest tuna I have caught in the past 44 years,” Scott said. “At 110 inches it’s about as big as they get around here. You’d have to go to Prince Edward Island in Canada to get something bigger.”
A Lifetime of Fishing on the Massachusetts’ Coast
Edwards grew up on Summer Street in Marblehead and started fishing on Redds Pond when he was six. He began fishing the ocean at age of 13 with his dad, former Boston Yacht Club Commodore Bill Edwards (1991-1992). Edwards got his charter captain license at the age of 21, which is when he caught his first tuna.
The heaviest tuna Edwards managed to land was a 985-pound beast of a bluefin when he was 22, and a 750-pound bluefin in the fall of 2019. Despite the weight difference, that one only measured 108 inches.