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Interview 5:49 - 25:45 Play 5:49 - More
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Steve Coulter  







Sport fishing; Bluefin Tuna  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
19 Mar 1997

  • United States
    North Carolina
    Dare County
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • 35.25278   -75.03333
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo


00:00 -5:48 ambi -birds chirping in bg

6:14 My name is Steve Coulter (SC)

CJ -and what is your boat here?

6:17 SC-the boat is called the Sea Creature [CJ -and you fish for bluefin tuna sometimes] and yes i fish for bluefin tuna

6:22 CJ -you call yourself the dissident, why?

SC [laughter] well, i have been called a dissident. I don't necessary believe that our tax dollars are being spent wisely in some of these programs. i think the science and the data being collected is probably very valuable for the fish and the fishery, but i am not sure the data is being used wisely and properly by the people that are using the data to produce federal regulations.

6:58 CJ -that lS the question that i asked Dick Stone last night. It is one thing to collect a lot of scientific data -is it the political will or intelligence to use it?

7:08 SC -I think there is a very strong political will behind all of this, and whether it is to better the fishery or not I can't answer that question.

7:18 CJ -well, what makes you feel this way?

7:23 SC -these fish have been off North Carolina probably for a lot longer than anyone knows. we have been catching them for 5 years now. the recreation aspect of the business has blossomed in the past 3 years. it is unbelievable the economic impact it has had on this area. it is very good. the fish are a valuable, valuable resource. not only to recreational fisherman, but to commercial fisherman also. and the people of North Carolina have been cut out of the commercial process on the bluefin tuna. the season is open commercially i think the first of june and closed in december. the fish are here in january, feb, march maybe april. we don't get to commercial fish for them. they are caught in a different part of the country -

8:20 CJ -and what you are saying that the commercial season begins when the fish are not there?

SC -that's correct -

CJ -what's the point in that?

SC -that's bc the fish are somewhere else. the fish are in the northeast in june, july, aug, sept., oct. and that's where they commercial fish for them. the time of year when the fish are here there is no commercial season for bluefin tuna. there is only a 6 month season on bluefin tuna and that is when the fish are in a different region. now, i am not saying that we should open the seas and wholly -to anyone part of the country. but i think it needs to be fairly distributed. just like the national marine fisheries has a proposed rule right now which will go to a mtg tomorrow night which will discuss proposed rules for 1997 -here it is the middle of March and we are discussing rules for 1997. that's a 3 month lag time. that's not very good management i wouldn't think. 9:29

9:30 CJ -you know, people like us come here -and don't know cape hatteras very well, or the outerbanks, and you see the t-shirts, and the competitions for bluefins, it seems like there is a lot of enthusiasm for the whole tagging project.

9:49 SC -very good promotions.

9:52 CJ -do you think that that is heartfelt by the people here in the outer banks? or do you think it is public relations and there is some dissonance and not happiness.

SC -I believe -our record speaks for itself, not mine, but some of the other boys -there have been more bluefin tunas tagged off the coast of nc -hatteras nc -in the last 3 years and that have been tagged. we wholeheartedly believe in the tagging program. but the results and the data being collected is not being used to help us -i don't believe -and i don't believe it is being used to help the fish. everything is pretty much status quo -as far as for the way the fish are being managed. except for the fact that they are not letting -they are keeping people from utilizing the resource in a wise manner i believe. and i don't believe the scientific data proves out that the fishery should be shut down the first of march -

CJ -that's what has happened here -right?

11:03 SC -that's what has happened here

CJ -now you mean the commercial fishery?

SC -well, there never has been a commercial fishery

CJ -so what gets shut down in march?

11:13 SC -the angling category quota for march for bluefin tunas has been stopped. the national marine fisheries has actually stopped us from taking a bluefin tuna as of 2 weeks ago. which means we can take people out and catch them and release them and tag them for the scientific project that is going on but if our charter from ohio, nj, california, alaska, wants to take a fish home and eat it -the national marine sanctuaries says we can't do that. and the reason they are saying that we can't do that is bc there aren't enough fish to go around and we need to stop you boys from catching them o you catch them someplace else later in the year. i don't believe that science proves that out, but management says that's what is happening. 12:10

12:11 CJ -let me ask you about the differences btwn catch and release and actually taking a bluefin home to eat it. i don't know if i have tasted a bluefin or not -i may have and not known it but i have had yellowfin and others -jack tuna -my understanding is that you get $1000 bucks or so to take a group out to catch and release [SC -or to keep one] does it make that much difference to the fellows -the people that are going out, whether they can keep one or release it -what do they say on the boat?

12:48 SC -i am stuck btwn a rock and a hard place here -i would just as much assume catch 'em and release 'em. but i am also a strong believer that you have the right to take one if you want to. i was fairly lucky last year and had taken a couple of gentlemen fishing with fly rods for bluefin tuna, and we set 2 world records last year which was a great boost to my business this year. i took more fly fisherman trying to catch world records this year than i did regular fisherman trying to catch one and take it home -which did not bother me in the least. probably 90% of-the people i was taking wasn't going to be able to catch a fish on a fly rod but they had the opportunity. and up until 2 weeks ago had I caught a world record on a fly rod we could have taken it and submitted it for world record consideration. when they closed the season on me 2 weeks ago that shut me out. i can not legally take a fish under 73 inches if it is a record. so i have lost 6 customers over the last 2 weeks at $1000 a day bc i cannot take a world record fish bc they have closed me down. so it does effect some of us. some of us it does not effect as greatly. if anyone tell you here that these people are coming here to catch these fish and take one home and eat it, they are not being truthful. a lot of people want to take these fish home and eat them. people from west va, you know -indiana, ohio, that don't necessarily get to eat fresh tuna all the time, and they come down here and spend $1000 to go fishing -if they catch a fish and they have the right -they want to take that fish home and eat it. 14:47

14:50 CJ -it doesn't seem as if -do you have any idea as to why the national marine fisheries service decided to just come down in march and say boom, it's over?

SC -well, i have heard several different reasons.

CJ -what do you think is the reason?

15:11 SC -the lobby for the northeast is a lot stronger for the lobby of the southeast.

CJ -and they have been fishing for a long time already and they know the people and they know the talk

15:21 SC -that is correct. that is my opinion. not necessarily the opinion of this community.

CJ -what do you think the opinion is of the community?

15:30 SC -urn .... that if we work with these people, supply them with their scientific data, that they are going to see what the right thing to do and hopefully in turn we will be treated fairly with the rest of the people vying for tunas along the east coast

15:53 -CJ -you are a little skeptical -

SC -I am extremely skeptical.

15:56 CJ -what do you think is going to happen?

SC -things will stay as they are or get worse. there was a proposal last year in the national marine fisheries rules last year to start the opening day of the angling category season, which starts the first of january, and runs a full year. there wasa proposed rule this past year to start it the first of june, the same time as the commercial season which would have totally kept north carolina out of keeping any bluefin tunas we would have bee strictly catch and release.

16:29 CJ -the angling category is what you are doing -catch and release -[SC -that is correct] so what you are saying is that you an catch one per boat per day, is that correct ...during the season -to keep i mean.

SC -these past 3 months we have been able to take one fish a day btwn 27 and 73 inches, if we chose to -just one fish. and that mayor may not be the case latter on this yr and that mayor may not be the case next year. we don't know yet.

17:04 CJ -so what it sounds like is that it is a state of confusion and no one knows what is going to happen [SC -that's correct] and then it is a little difficult to plan your business

17:14 SC -extremely. i have booked probably 30 days for next year already. and everyone that i have booked has booked early in the year hoping that the season will still be open and that they will able to take a fish. whereas they closed last yr in early march from keeping the fish and they have closed us this yr in early march to keep us from keeping the fish and now my customers are booking early in the year to try and bypass that problem.

CJ -when someone calls you up, a potential customer, from ohio or missouri or whatever and say i have heard about this giant bluefin i am really excited i gotta come. and you say ok you got to understand that it is catch and release [SC-it MAYBE] -ok it's maybe catch and release. what kind of response to you get over the phone?

18:10 SC -well, the first thing they do is they start complaining about commercial fisherman which is the wrong thing to do. it has nothing to do with commercial fishing. it has to do with federal regulations, international regulations, and i just have to talk to them and determine whether or not they want to take a fish to eat or whether they want to catch fish for the pure enjoyment of catching a fish -sport fishing -people do want to do that. there is no doubt that the class of people and the clientele that we are getting here from allover the world and not everyone cares about killing a fish. and there are people that are citizens of the united states who have the right to take a fish and want to exercise that right.

19:03 CJ -are you loosing potential customers to new england?

19:08 SC -sure

CJ -thinking that they have the money to travel from missouri to nc might as well travel from MO to MASS?

19:17 SC -or they live in the northeast and they can catch them there when the season reopens. this is the first year where they have had the authority to close the season w/o having reached a potential quota. ICAT -which is an international organization, tells us, as the US how many bluefin tunas we can catch a year. and the nm fisheries takes that number and divides it into different quotas and categories and this is the first yr that they have been able to take the angling category and stop it in season in order to what they say -spread the season over a longer period and collect more scientific data from different geographical locations and give people the opportunity to catch fish in different geographical locations.

20:26 CJ -but when they decided this this year in march -all of the sudden -it must have come as a surprise to some of the skippers down here.

SC -sure it was. i don't have my facts straight on this but apparently the rules put in place the week before they closed it. so a week after they put the rule into effect where they could do that -they did it the very next week.

20:50 CJ -what was the reaction here?

SC -we were extremely upset and bamboozled is a good word bc the sate of nc is collecting data on the docks for the nm fisheries and the day the close the category that i got the fax from the nm fisheries it says that the state of north carolina has caught 16, 17 metric tons of fish and the federal govt figures we have caught 30. well the only people supplying them with number of fish caught is the state of nc and they are taking the state of nc figures and doubling them.

21 : 31 CJ -why?

SC -i'd like to know.

CJ -how long have you been fishing here?

SC -11 years.

CJ -you are from this area?

SC -no, i am from VA.

CJ -what do you -in a basic sense -people starting catching bluefin here about 4 or 5 yrs ago -yourself included i take it.

SC-they were catching bluefin here before that it was just not as widely known.

CJ -what do you think of this fish, as a sport fish?

22:01 SC -it is uh, one of the ultimate sport fish ... it has been a long time since people have caught these fish in the numbers that they have caught them here in the waters off nc we take people that fish from MA and Maine that fish for bluefin tunas up there in the summer, late fall and say they have never seen the fish like this before. or it has been 20 years since i have seen fish act like this and they are just amazed that they are doing this. it is a very exciting fishery. you are catching big fish in large quantities -visually it is a very exciting fish. sport fish-wise it is probably one of the great fish swimming in the ocean, one of greatest fish swimming in the ocean besides the blue marlin -they eat. and that is what people like. big fish that eat.

23:06 CJ -in a sense it must be -this happened all of the sudden on hatteras and this whole area, like manna from heaven.

SC-it has been an extreme boost to local businesses in the wintertime. not just fisherman but restaurants, motels, car rentals, i am sure american airlines -or some airlines has flown a lot more people into the state of nc inthe past 2 years then they did in the wintertime then they did in the yrs before.

23:37 CJ -do you have any idea how many people come here to fish for bluefin every season?

SC -there are more people fishing this year than fished last year. you can count 40 or 50 boats a day fishing off there even during the week, when the fish are biting good and when you could keep a fish. you don't see as many boats now that you can't keep a fish (good seagulls in bg) it has to be in the thousands of people here every week that are coming here to bluefin tuna fish

24:15 CJ -that is a lot of business

SC -a lot of business. it has been a good send to this community as something to do in the winter time. there are people that are running charter boats and taking people fishing that would commercial fish on the beach or collect unemployment. it has been an extremely good boost here on the winter economy.

CJ -things really shut down here in the winter here, don't they? [SC-yes] before the bluefin.

SC -before the bluefin you pretty much had to go off island to go out and eat dinner. it was a peaceful time.

CJ -that's a nice way to put it. do you live here on the island?

SC -yes, I live in First Scott (??) just up the road about 3 miles.

CJ -is there anything else you want to say feel free to say it -if 1 haven't drawn it out of you yet

SC -naw -that's about it.

CJ -and they name of your boat again

SC -Sea Creature

CJ -and your name

SC -Steve Coulter

25:47 END OF DAT

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