Gloucester-Caught Bluefin Tuna: Wicked Good!

September 23, 2021 / Food and Drink

Excerpts from the blog: Gloucester-Caught Bluefin Tuna: Wicked Good! | Written by local historian Justin Demitri

The other day I got a notice on Facebook that Steve Connolly Seafoods in Gloucester had, among other delights, local bluefin tuna. It’s been a while since I’ve been down to Connolly’s wharf and far too long since I had bluefin tuna. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I ever cooked bluefin even though I’ve been around it most of my life.

My dad, before he was the Striper King was slammin’ 900-pound bluefins in the early 1980’s, back when the first Japanese buyers started showing up in Gloucester. The wharves I worked on briefly in the 90’s all bought tuna and in the summer and fall, the jitterbugs (forklifts) were busy bringing fat 600-pounders to the cooler. Nowadays, most of my friends have landed multiple big bluefins and our tuna season has been so good over the last few decades that every cable subscriber in America knows of Wicked Tuna.

About Gloucester Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin are the largest of the tunas, with Atlantic bluefin (Thunnus thynnus) getting well over 1,000lbs. Eastern Atlantic bluefin, which spawn in the Mediterranean tend to be a little smaller but mature quicker than the fish we get here on the US Atlantic coast. The bluefin tuna found in our markets, restaurants and a certain popular TV show are western Atlantic bluefin, which migrate seasonally from the Gulf of Mexico.

Bluefin tuna is another example of changing tastes, changing markets and how fishing ports like Gloucester adapt. The glory days of Gloucester’s schooner fleet didn’t bring in tuna, except as a curiosity. Once in a while a vessel would bring in an enormous “horse mackerel” where it would make headlines and then probably turned into cat food. Yankees didn’t eat tuna (or swordfish) until the “ethnics” like we Italians and Portuguese immigrants taught them to eat these large, powerful seasonal visitors. Swordfish caught on with the public quicker, it was not until the late 1930’s that even a small market for large tuna began to emerge locally…

Here in Gloucester the Large Pelagics Research Center has done great work in determining the health of the stock. Their tagging and monitoring programs have led to major discoveries about Atlantic bluefin migration and spawning patterns. When I was a kid there were still a lot of misconceptions about bluefin tuna but this kind of research, often working in conjunction with fishermen, has changed how the stocks are managed. And from what I can tell, they have done a great job.

There is no doubt that our local waters are a hotspot for bluefin tuna, and a major factor for this the abundance of food available: mackerel, squid, herring and right now menhaden (pogies). While I was writing this, I saw a video online of a boat catching a tuna by harpoon as they feasted on a pogie school…right off the rocks! I’ve never seen tuna that close to shore – only stories from my grandfather and great-grandfathers time…

Read Justin’s full story and get his recipe for Bluefin Tuna Steaks at Gloucester Caught Bluefin Tuna.