BY ANDY WALKER
North Lake bills itself as the ‘Tuna Capital of the World’ and that title has brought the port on the eastern coast of PEI both international headlines and hard times over the past five decades.
The giant bluefins first began appearing in the late 1960s when the migrating patterns of the giant fish took them away from familiar waters off Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia. Both a commercial and a sports fishery quickly developed. By the 1970s the community was a mecca for the sport fishery, hosting a tournament that attracted entries from around the globe.
The big fish became a tourist attraction and, by 1975, the community of less than 100 people had two hotels and a thriving charter business. The industry reached its peak in 1976 with 456 bluefins landed with an average weight of 870 lbs.
However, it was then North Lake’s turn to feel the impact of migration. In 1980 the catch was down to 67 over the year. By the middle of that decade the fish were gone. No bluefin tipped the scales on the wharf between 1987 and 1995.
Then the cycle shifted again. While the fish are back, the sports fishery is now a little lower key for the community than it was in the heydays of the 1970s. The catches have been up and down for the last decade, but the international challenge tournament is back.
However, the recreational event is now different – the fish are weighed and then released to lessen the impact on the commercial fishery. That doesn’t seem to have impacted the interest. This year’s event, held in mid-September, attracted 28 teams from as far away as Denmark and Germany.
This time the fish also co-operated. There were 85 hook-ups over the three-day event and 50 teams managed to get their fish to the side of the boat where it could be measured. A team from Denmark won the event with 452 points. The longest fish was landed by a team from Germany at 138 inches.
To Valerie Flannery, the co-ordinator for the event, the weekend had the feel of the 1970s. The restaurants and hotels in the surrounding areas were busy looking after the 100 plus fishermen and their families. Even the nearby golf course was busy as a golf tournament was built into the schedule.
However, like everybody else in the community, she is also too aware their future is at the mercy of migrating fish. While there has been some diversification, a for profit wind farm is easily seen from the wharf and there are some mussel leases in the area, it is a sure bet the words “tuna” and “North Lake” will remain linked for a long time to come.