Which big fish are released and why: Marlin, Tuna, and Shark photos and facts

Ever wonder why sport fishing anglers keep some big fish and let others go?

It might simply be a matter of taste. Marlin are great fun to catch, but in my opinion they don't make for great table fare. They are sometimes prepared by smoking or grinding them up into meatballs called albondigas. The results can be decent, but then again, lots of people say frogs and and pigs feet are tasty, too. "If you cook 'em just right they're delicious!" Fortunately most sport fishing anglers are content to let marlin go.

I took the above photo of a blue marlin that was being released. Taken above or below the water, photos are a great way to celebrate one's catch. Taxidermy mounts are still popular. They're no longer made from dead fish, and this results in a lot less fish hanging at the docks for the sake of a picture. I had a fantastic life-sized plastic marlin mount made for me by one of the best taxidermy companies in the world, and they only wanted to know the species and approximate size. They had molds in different sizes made from fish that have been already been caught hanging up on their walls.  I kept telling them, "Look at the photo of MY marlin" and they said politely with a knowing smile, "Yup, that's a marlin alright!"

Having spent a fair amount of time swimming with marlin and examining the photos I take, I can attest to the fact that most marlin of the same species and size range look fairly similar (They probably say the same thing about us humans!) Once in a while you'll see one that's particularly portly or skinny or has a deformity, but for the most part, the accuracy of the mount will depend more on the quality of the artist than anything you might bring them.

I often travel to Hawaii and fish the Kona Coast. I know that a lot of local Hawaiians keep the marlin they catch, and to me, that's OK, because they are different than sport fishing anglers. They are not tourists with extra cash on hand, and they are not really fishing for sport. They live there, and these are the animals they have access to. They are fishing for marlin with hook and line, the hard way. Often they are doing it solo, without the help of a deckhand, using inexpensive gear. Marlin may be one of the few fresh meats they can afford, and they are usually fishing to feed their family. Providing for one's family is what people used to do before division of labor came along....before we paid other people to hunt, fish, and farm so we could chat with people we barely know on Facebook, watch TV, and eat Hot Cheetos.
Tuna, like the above big yellowfin (or ahi) that I photographed, are usually NOT released. They are simply too darn delicious! I love eating tuna, and I am careful about which kinds I eat. Some species of tuna, particularly bluefin, are being over-harvested by commercial fishing enterprises that go out on the ocean with huge ships, massive nets, and spotter aircraft. The fish don't have a chance. The people who are fishing with hook and line, a process that takes more effort and time and is less productive, can't compete with these monstrous fishing operations.

A famous and universally respected captain in Hawaii named Marlin Parker told me something that I thought was pretty interesting and agreeable. He thought it would be a good idea for people to get back to fishing with hook and line instead of using mass capture methods like bottom trawling, spotter aircraft, and floating fish processing factories. What do you think? Here is a photo of Marlin Parker releasing a blue marlin.

He is using a special tool that helps him remove the hook. He'll keep the boat in gear to keep water running over the fish's gills.  The fish's colors come back, the hook is removed, and once the marlin starts kicking it's tail, he let's it go and the angler gets to watch the fish swim off. It's a great feeling.

Check out my photo below of an angler hooked up to a 400 pound black marlin, with the mates leadering the fish to the boat so they can tag and release it. I took it at Tropic Star Lodge in Panama, which was named World's Top Fishing Resort by the Robb Report. This photo is now the opening image on Tropic Star Lodge's website.

Below is a picture of one of their deckhands inserting a tag into the shoulder of a black marlin near the dorsal fin. Once the mates tag the fish, it counts as a catch. The tag also contains a code; if the fish is caught again, the second angler can see how far it traveled and how long it has been free.
On that same trip to Tropic Star I took a picture of a marlin that ended up on the cover of Marlin Magazine. That was a great trip! Here is the cover shot:
On the subject of mates, deckhands, and photographs, let me tell you about a friend of mine named Joe Thrasher. "Kaiwi Joe" is a world-class deckhand and mate and is currently working with Captain Teddy Hoogs in Kona. Joe sometimes does the job of 3 people: he grabs the leader and pulls the marlin to the boat, pokes the marlin with the tagging stick with one hand, and takes photos with another. I will email him and see if he won't sent me a pic or short clip of him doing this. You won't believe it! Here is a picture of Joe Thrasher:
I know that giant bluefin tuna are in serious jeopardy. Currently, in some areas like possibly Nova Scotia, people are allowed to harvest a limited number of giant bluefin tuna. That seems to be a pretty smart way of letting people catch a safe amount of fish that are in need of protection. My friend Tim Simpson, the editor of Bluewater Boats and Sportfishing Magazine, was just in that area and released one that may have been over 1,000 pounds! Fish like that are worth a ton of money, and because they can't keep every fish they catch, the captains are very selective about the fish they do keep.

Years ago I read a book called Fish the Chair If You Dare written by Greg Beacher. It was a great read and it's still available on Amazon. If I remember correctly he was one of the pioneers of giant bluefin fishing on the East Coast of the USA in the 1970's. In the book, he showed pictures of giant bluefin laying on docks back about 50 or 60 years ago. Incredibly, back then people didn't view giant bluefin tuna as a delicacy, and they would sometimes leave their fish on the docks because they didn't want to bother with them. Now fish like that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars!

Above is a photo I took in Hawaii of a Galapagos shark. Sharks are usually released by sport fishing anglers. In my opinion, most don't taste all that good, and some are downright nasty. I see mako shark and thresher shark in fish markets, and some people say they taste great. I haven't ever had mako and the little thresher I tasted was OK. The worldwide shark population is being decimated by shark finning. That's when people cut off the shark's fins to sell for shark fin soup and let the shark sink to the ocean floor. Sharks are vulnerable because they don't reproduce quickly, so personally I am not into eating or killing sharks. Recently I have heard of some shark-free marinas that don't allow sharks to be hung at the docks. Sounds like a good idea to me. To me, the release is the most exciting part of shark fishing.
Here's a picture I took of a Galapagos shark being released.
Sharks get a bad rap for being aggressive, but they actually bother very few people. On the rare occasion that they do bite someone, it interests people and the media makes money talking about it. If you do a Google search and compare shark bite stats and dog bite stats, you'll see what I mean.

There have been times when I didn't let marlin or sharks go. When I first started out shore fishing I kept some small sharks and ate them. I haven't kept a shark in maybe a decade and don't plan to again. One time I caught a 200 pound blue marlin on a kayak. After it towed me around for an hour, it dove down deep and died, and there was nothing I could do about it. I pulled it up by hand, gave most to the captain who lived in the Baja fishing village where I was staying, and I also took some home to try. I didn't care for it but I can understand why he eats it occasionally. That'd be like telling someone from Vermont or Wisconsin that they shouldn't harvest any local deer.

Catch and release fishing can be a lot of fun, and I have since learned that to promote a healthy release, it's a good idea to reduce the fighting time and use heavy enough tackle so the fish experiences less stress. In fact, if you are fishing for tuna and plan to eat them, a shorter fight time will result in a tastier fish.

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Thanks, Jon Schwartz