Sustainable Tuna Troll Fishing
Introducing the art of Trolling, from it’s earliest days of existence, to the now most sustainable Tuna fishery in the world. Target: Albacore Tuna
Troll fishing, or Trolling for fish, is simply towing an artificial bait, known as a lure or jig, behind a boat, with a hook, at the end of the line, to catch the fish. This type of fishing is moving threw the water as to lure the fish into biting the hook. This Hook and Line method of fishing is one of many variations of gear types using a hook, but is the only one that is conducted while a boat is moving, or underway.
At the present time, Troll fishing is most commonly used in the recreational fisheries to catch large game fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish, and other fishes caught for sport. Each fisherman (angler) places his pole (rod) in a fixed position on the boat until a fish is caught. Once a fish is hooked, all other lines are reeled in, as not to tangle with the fish, and the captain of the boat will maneuver the vessel to help with the catch.
The Troll method is used commercially for catching Salmon and Albacore Tuna on the open Ocean. Instead of using the conventional rod, or pole, commonly used by anglers, commercial fishing boats are rigged with two large 20-40 foot poles that have multiple lines hanging from them. Once positioned on each side of the vessel in a 45% angle pointing out away from the boat, these “outriggers”, or “downriggers” give each fishing line a spread from one another keeping them from tangling with each other. It is common, for a commercial trolling vessel, to drag 6-12 lines threw the water all at one time.
History of Trolling with a “Fish Hook”:
The art of Trolling could be as old as man himself. In 2011, while digging in the Jerimalai cave of East Timor, Professor Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University in Canberra and a team of scientists uncovered over 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 fish - dating back 42,000 years. The biggest discovery was the unearthing of a fish hook made from a shell, which is between 16,000 and 23,000 years old.
"What the site has shown us is that early modern humans had amazingly advanced maritime skills," Sue says. "They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today, like tuna.
The researchers can only speculate about exactly how these ancestral fishermen managed to catch the deep-sea fish.
"It's not clear what method the occupants of Jerimalai used to capture the fish," Sue says. "But it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore."
One of the great puzzles of human migration is how and when Australia was first colonized. Recent research has pointed to arrival of Aboriginal Australians over 50,000 years ago, having migrated from Africa through Asia about 75,000 years ago.
By accident or design, the islands of the South Pacific were reached by people sailing or drifting from southeast Asia. The first to be settled are those immediately to the east of New Guinea and Australia - the region given in modern times the name of Melanesia, because of the dark skins of the inhabitants (from the Greek melasblack andnesosisland). These Melanesians have existed for some 40,000 years. To give an idea on how long ago this was, The Neanderthal Man was roaming around Europe about this same time.
Only 4,000 years ago, but still before the pyramids were built in Egypt, a lighter skinned people migrated to these Islands creating many shades of skin that populated the Islands to the North and East. These are known as the Islands of Micronesia.
In around 1300 BC seafarers make the longest step in this Migration process and reach Fiji, a group of islands intermediate between Melanesia and Polynesia.
The Pacific Islanders developed a twin-hulled sailing canoe which is an extremely effective sea-going vessel. In boats of this kind they continue their process of spreading eastwards through Polynesia (Greek polusmany, nesosisland). The first staging posts are Tonga and Samoa. The earliest surviving trace of human occupation in these islands is about 420 BC in Tonga and 200 BC in Samoa. But colonists are likely to have arrived considerably earlier than this, since by the 1st century BC humans have reached the much more inaccessible Marquises Islands.
The last staging points being Hawaii and New Zealand. It is said that these Pacific Islanders were great mariners that navigated by the stars making multiple voyages across the pacific, trolling a fish hook to survive.
Pacific Island Legends say the fish hook was used by the Gods for creation.
Having no written language, other then carvings picturing past events known as “story boards”, Islanders relied on “story and dance” to pass on their legacy and traditions.
In the creation of the Polynesian people, there is a legend story that comes from the islands of Tonga. It goes like This:
Tangaloa, the God of art and invention, sat at home in Bolotu (Heaven), where death was not known and decay did not exist. He looked down upon the vast sea and said, “I am hungry, hungry for fish”. He got out his great turtle hook and lowered it down far below and soon something big and heavy pulled on the line.
Tangaloa pulled and pulled but he could not pull up the hook. He looked down to earth, then laughed and laughed. He saw that he did not catch a fish, but a rock. As he cept pulling, a whole row of rocks came up from under the sea. The great god laughed again, then rubbed his hungry stomach and said, “Today I will not eat fish. Today I shall have great fun making Islands”. Tangaloa pulled up the bottom of the sea. Just as the rocky tip was to break the surface sea, the fishing line snapped. So instead of there being one long continent, the land broke off into dozens of small islands.
The “Fish Hook” legend coming from the Hawaii Islands speaks of the great Maui:
Eons ago, there was born the Demigod Maui. His father was the holder of the heavens and his mother was the guardian of the path to the Netherworld. Maui was the only one of the children who possessed the powers of magic and by miracles.
Maui was the smallest of the family. He had the quickest of mind and had an extremely rascally nature about him. Maui would take any advantage of both his friends and the gods in his quest to fulfill his schemes.
It is said that Maui was not a god fisherman. His brothers were much more skilled. They would often laugh at him for his poor success. In revenge, Maui used his cunning to fill his boat with catch at his brothers expense. Maui would position his boat so that when one of his brothers began to pull in a fish, he would distract them so that he could pull his line across theirs stealing their fish.
Maui's brothers could only marvel at their younger brother. However they soon caught on and refused to take him fishing with them. Maui's fortune turned against him. His mother then sent him to his father to obtain a magic hook.
"Go to your father. There you will receive the hook called Manaiakalani, the hook fastened to the heavens. When the hook catches land, it will raise the old seas together."
Maui returned with his hook. He joined his brothers in another fishing expedition. They jeered him and threw him out of the boat. When they returned, they were empty handed. Maui berated them. He stated that if they had allowed him to join them, they would have had better success. The brothers decided to allow him to join them in their canoe for another chance.
They paddled far into the deep ocean and threw their lines overboard. To their dismay, they only caught sharks. The brothers ridiculed Maui asking "Where are the fish you promised?"
Maui then rose and threw his magical hook into the ocean. Chanting a spell of power, he commanded the hook to catch the Great Fish.
At once the sea began to move. Great waves rose around the canoe. Maui commanded his brothers to paddle with all their might and to not look back. For two days, Maui held taut the magic line and hook while his brothers kept paddling furiously. Suddenly from below the depths arose the tops of great mountains in a series of peaks that broke the surface of the ocean. Maui reminded his brothers to keep paddling harder. Maui pulled mightily against the line and forced the peaks even farther out of the water.
One of his brothers then broke the command and gazed back in awe at the sight of the rising land. He stopped paddling and quickly the magic line began to slacken in Maui's hands. Before he could call out to his brothers, the line snapped and the magic hook was lost forever beneath the sea.
...Maui chastised his brothers for their failure to paddle as he had commanded. "I had endeavored to raise a great continent but because of your weakness I have only these islands to show for all my efforts."
And this is how the Islands of Hawai'i came to be…
The most known and popular version comes from the Maori people of New Zealand.
Maui was a demi-god, who lived in Hawaiiki (Heaven). He possessed magic powers that not all of his family knew about.
One day when he was very young, he hid in the bottom of his brothers' boat in order to go out fishing with them. Once out at sea, Maui was discovered by his brothers, but they were not able to take him back to shore as Maui made use of his magic powers, making the shoreline seem much further away than it was in reality.
So the brothers continued rowing, and once they were far out into the ocean Maui dropped his magic fishhook over the side of the waka. After a while he felt a strong tug on the line. This seemed to be too strong a tug to be any ordinary fish, so Maui called to his brothers for assistance.
After much straining and pulling, up suddenly surfaced Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui), known today as the North Island of New Zealand. Maui told his brothers that the Gods might be angry about this, and he asked his brothers to wait while he went to make peace with the Gods.
However, once Maui had gone his brothers began to argue among themselves about the possession of this new land. They took out their weapons and started pounding away at the catch. The blows on the land created the many mountains and valleys of the North Island today.
The South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui (the waka of Maui). Stewart Island, which lies at the very bottom of New Zealand, is known as Te Punga a Maui (Maui's anchor), as it was the anchor holding Maui's waka as he pulled in the giant fish.
Spiritual Meaning of the Maori Fish Hook
Hei matau does not only stand for good luck, prosperity, abundance, strength, and determination. As are most Maori carvings the Maori fish hook pendant is more than a talisman.
Maori fish hook jewelry is considered a cultural treasure (taonga). It also represents the Maori's dependence on fishing, their connection to the sea, and the respect for all sea life including the god of the sea, Tangaroa.
Tangaroa is also named the Guardian of the Ocean and father of the fish and other sea life. His opposite and brother Tane, god of the animals, trees, and humans, is his enemy.
When Maori seafarers were on sea they were considered representatives of Tane entering Tangaoroa's domain. That's why offerings were made before expeditions and the Hei matau was such a valued item because it was thought to provide safety on sea.
Because Maori culture was oral previous to the arrival of European discoverers, carvings and other art forms were a way to pass on culture and tradition. Certain illustrious items were cherished, linking to important stories from the past, thus referring to historical events.
The most exquisite hooks were passed on from father to son, generation upon generation. They became highly treasured heirlooms thought to adopt the spiritual energy of the persons who had worn the fish hook necklaces previously. This spiritual essence is called mana by the Maori.
All said and done, the fish hook would have been one of the most valued tools to early man. What safer place to put your hook, then hanging around your neck. To loose your hook may be the difference of life or death.
These Pacific Island people would be the 1st to know the art of Troll fishing from behind their boats. As they have migrated all around the Pacific, it would be safe to say they would migrate with the fish that fed their island people. Much of that fish being tuna.
Tuna Troll fishing in the Indian Ocean.
Early seamen and fishermen of Malay and South Africa show they also knew of the art of Trolling for tuna.
As time marched on and sailing ships from European countries circumnavigated the globe, the fish hook trailed behind vessels to Troll for their catch. Great sailing ships began taking their place in the fishing industry. Other fishing methods were later developed, but trolling was never forgotten.
By the mid 1800’s, the Scandinavian countries took a liking to the Troll fishing method. They found that schools of mackerel and albacore tuna, that dwelled in the cooler waters of the North Atlantic, would follow along behind a boat for ever. This was like a "God sent".
Fishermen found that if you take good care as not to loose a fish, or let one get away, or not loose a hook, you can keep a school of fish under the boat a log long time. It is truly amazing how the tuna fish are attracted to boats, and will follow along so well
By devising different jigs, or lures, and the use of poles, to extend the reach of the hook from behind the boat, this fishery was underway at full sail. Soon France and Portugal joined in and filled the Bay of Biscay with colorful sailing Tuna Trollers.
As the North Atlantic may have been the birth place of Trolling for Albacore Tuna, this fishery quickly spread around the world. Europeans migrated to the US and Canada, bringing with them the newly developed art of trolling. It spread to New Zealand an Australia as well.
In the early 1900’s, sails were eventually replaced with engines for propulsion, ice soon replaced salt for preserving the fish, and man invented the canning machine. All of these things benefited the growing albacore tuna Troll fleet off the west coast of North America. Albacore tuna was well on it’s way to becoming the #1 tuna preferred in the US.
At the time of world war II, many troll fishermen left to serve our country across the Pacific, and overseas, never to return. The sailors and service men that did return, further developed the Troll fishery. West coast troll boats, referred to as “Jig boats” were built, in great numbers, up and down the coast. The name jig came with the type of lure used specifically for albacore tuna.
Common lure, or jig, at this time was a Jap head with red eyes and white chicken feathers. Home base for a “Jig” fisherman would have been Astoria, Oregon, off the Colombia River, where albacore was the most plentiful in the summer months, and canning made available.
Canneries were set up on the Columbia river mainly for the salmon being harvested using gill nets. These nets were stretched across the rivers by small 15-20 foot river boats. Although these boats were fitting for the rivers, and around “in shore”, they were not big enough to be taking out on the open sea. Many had tried, never to return. Bigger boats were needed. The fish were just to the west. They only needed bigger boats to get out there…
During this same period of time, the invention of the “gerdee” came about, and the Salmon Troll fishery was born. A devise was made to drive 3 super sized spools of wire that was like having 3 heavy duty reels at once.
Each spool went out to the tip of the Trolling poles, or down-riggers, then down to any depth you wanted connected to a heavy weight, or known as a “cannon ball”. This devise was driven with a hydraulic motor run off the main engine. Gerdees gave Salmon trollers 6 lines to fish with, and the ability to put 3-10 lines with hooks, on each line. This invention took Troll fishing to a new level. Salmon lures produced were referred to as “spoons”, or plugs, hoochies, wobblers, etc. This type of under water trolling for salmon caught on quickly. It didn’t take a real big boat to go outside of the rivers, and being there are many rivers up and down the coast, Salmon boats were springing up everywhere.
Troll fishing for Salmon took the art of Troll fishing to its highest level.
By adding refrigeration to fishing vessels. Freezing fish on board gave longer fishing time at sea. The albacore jig fleet stay at sea for up to a month, or until the fish hatch was full. These freezer boats were no longer bound to unload the catch every week, and dependent on having ice. This also gave the fisherman the freedom to deliver to whoever, or whenever he wanted, for best market value. It was common for canneries to give a price to the fishermen before he left port, then only pay a fraction of the price when the fisherman returned with his catch. The canneries know the fisherman is forced to take the low price, or the fish will spoil. Having the fish frozen helped the fishermen regain stability in the market. Refrigeration also allowed boats to venture further “off shore” to better their production.
From the mid 1960’s to the late 70’s, the Albacore jig fleet spread from the west coast, to the international date line some 3,000 miles to the west. Albacore Jig boats began the “Mid way” fishery, named after the Island just south of the new fishing grounds, and were now unloading their tuna in Hawaii. Tuna troll fishing had peaked with over 1,000 vessels in production across the north Pacific.
In the early 1980s, US canneries left the west coast to do business elsewhere. The major canneries started buying their albacore from Asian countries that used a method known as long line to capture their fish. Another method of fishing was developed known as driftnet fishing. This method was much more effective in the catching of albacore, and soon the decline of the Troll fishery began. Not only did the west coast fishermen have no major canneries to buy their fish, the price of the fish dropped from the high volume caught by the Asian fleets. The biggest downfall was there was less and less fish to catch.
For the past 20 years, Albacore Troll vessels have ventured far off, all around the Pacific, finding new fishing grounds, only to meet up with their driftnet competition that continue to deplete the resources below the level of troll productivity.
Today, the remaining albacore troll fishery has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as the 1st and foremost sustainable tuna fishery in the world!
This fishery has virtually “0” by-catch. This means while fishing for Albacore, no other kind of fish is caught, and therefore is highly selective.
The fish hooks used for trolling have no barbs. This makes it easy to release the fish back into the sea, if need be, without any major damage to the fish, or further trauma.
There are NO discards in this fishery. Nothing is thrown back into the sea, as they only catch Albacore. It is a rule of thumb that what comes aboard- stays aboard. If there is a problem with undersized fish being caught, all the lines are simply put aboard and the vessel will relocate to a different area. All fish will go to market.
Much of the tuna caught goes to a newly developed market serving as sashimi. This consists of being frozen quickly upon catching and packaged as fresh frozen. Some fish are canned by local west coast canners, or under the MSC blue label, then sold to European markets who only sell sustain ably caught seafood. This helps to eliminate over fishing and stop Illegal Unreported and Unidentified (IUU) fishing around the world.
You can help support this sustainable fishery, and the oceans around the world, by simply being selective in buying your seafood. Only buy seafood marked with the MSC blue label, or tuna from “Pole and Line”, or “Pole and Troll” albacore tuna. Shopping at stores that promote sustainable seafood, like Safeway, is a great way to help too. It is now up to you.
Shop responsibly, our ocean’s future depend on this.