Catching, Handling and Releasing Your Tuna

Recreational fishers with bluefin tuna

Catch and release - recommended practices

  • Avoid long playing times by using heavy line classes.
  • Remove the hooks from the fish while it is in the water or cut the trace.
  • Use barbless single hooks on lures.
  • For bait fishing, use hooks that reduce gut hooking such as circle hooks.
  • Keep tuna out of the water for the minimum possible time.
  • Hold the fish horizontally when taking photographs.
  • For easier handling of small tuna hold them horizontally, upside down with their eyes covered with a wet cloth.
  • Larger tuna should be released without removing them from the water.

Tips to help tuna survive

  • Fingers should not be placed inside the gill cover as this can damage the gills.
  • Avoid holding fish by the tail wrist because if they thrash about as this may cause damage to tendons along the backbone and can separate muscle from bone.
  • Use dehookers to remove hooks from larger fish released in the water.
When released, tuna tend to swim a short distance or drop down to the seabed where they spend some time recovering. At this stage of recovery, they are susceptible to attack from seals and sharks so it's important to release all fish away from waters where seals are present.

Handling and dispatching (killing) tuna you are going to keep

If you use a gaff it should only be used if you intend to take the fish home. The fish should be dispatched quickly with as little stress as possible.
  • The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy funded a project to outline procedures for the humane killing of fish.  The web site describes the techniques for humanely dispatching of various species of fish, including tuna.
  • The most acceptable method is to stun or calm the fish down first by placing a damp cloth over the eyes or alternatively with a sharp blow to the head in the area just above the eyes (the area adjacent to the brain) using a special tool such as a heavy wooden handle or a priest.
  • Locate the soft spot by pressing your thumb over the top of the head between the eyes, then push a spike down at an angle of 45° into the brain cavity. The fish will give a shudder and the dorsal fin will spread before going limp.
  • Bleeding the fish improves the eating quality by removing lactic acid and helping to cool the fish. Cuts are made across the pectoral fin recess on both sides of the fish at a depth of around 2 cm.
  • Take care of your catch, carry ice and an eski - clean fish as you catch them. It is important to chill the fish as soon as possible.

More Information

Tuna Fishing Overview
Tuna Species Identification
Tuna Fishing Gear
Good Tuna Fishing Practices
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