ERIC BOURQUE PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
In its heyday the International Tuna Cup Match in Wedgeport attracted fishermen and teams – pro and amateur, rich and poor, famous and ordinary – from countries around the world.
Times have changed from decades ago, but the tuna tradition lives on.
And each year that the Wedgeport Tuna Tournament and Festival is held it is a reminder of the past, coupled with a celebration of the present.
“It is picking up every year. A lot of people from away take their vacation for it,” says Raymond Doucette, president of the Wedgeport Tuna Tournament and Festival.
Asked what he thinks makes the week-long event so appealing, he says, “It goes back to olden times, plus it’s family, plus everybody gets together, plus it’s good food, plus there is activity all week.”
The festival runs Aug. 17-23. Events include such things as a fun run, a junior fishing derby, a wine and cheese, a scavenger hunt, and a Tuna Queen pageant.
Entertainment also factors largely into the festival, as does a seafood extravaganza.
The highlight of the week is the tuna tournament. This year 13 or 14 teams are expected to participate in the tournament, which gets underway with the Aug. 19 captain’s send off at the Wedgeport Breakwater Wharf. From here the fishing boats and crews head off to the fishing grounds, with many going to an area known as the Hell Hole near Georges Bank – about a 12-hour sail away.
The tournament receives tags and a sport fishing tournament licence from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It receives quota from the Southwest Nova Tuna Association.
“Quota is always an issue because we’ve only got 3,200 pounds (for bluefin),” explains Doucette. Therefore boats have to report their catches because once the quota is caught, the fishing must stop.
Each boat is only allowed to land one bluefin tuna during the tournament. A bycatch of albacore and big eyes is also allowed. There is no limit or quota on these.
The international tuna matches started in the 1930s. The tournament stopped in 1976. It was revived, albeit on a smaller scale, in 2004.
In the earlier years of the tournament’s return the tuna was auctioned off to fish buyers after the weigh-ins. The money supported the Wedgeport Tuna Museum.
Nowadays the tuna catches from the tournament go to Saltwater Fisheries, which sells the tuna on consignment, with the money still coming back to support the museum.
“That’s the whole intent of the tournament, to support the museum,” Doucette says.
Brent Pothier, the manager of Saltwater Fisheries, says much of the tuna caught in the tournament ends up being exported to the United States. But the higher quality tuna – bluefin and big eye – is also sent to markets in Japan.
“If we see some good ones, yes we’re going to send them to Japan,” he says.
Pothier says it is difficult from year to year to know how much money per pound the tuna caught in the tournament will fetch. This depends not only on the quality of the fish, but also on how much tuna is on the market at that given time.
Pothier says they continue give advice to the teams taking part in the tournament to educate them on ways to best preserve the quality of their catches during the tournament.
“Cooling down the fish quickly is the key thing,” he says.
The fishermen use rods and reels in this tournament and it can take a long time to battle a tuna and bring it on board the boat – sometimes hours.
Last year’s tuna tournament saw eight bluefin cause for a total weight of 3,070 pounds. There were 28 big eyes caught for a total of 3,709 pounds. There were 47 albacores caught for a total weight of 2,064 pounds.
The biggest Bluefin last year was 674 pounds and caught by the team of the vessel Vernon P.
The biggest bluefin caught at the Hell Hole was 446 pounds caught aboard the Beverly Ann. The team with the largest overall total weight caught was the Rebecca Lynn 1 with 1,934 pounds.
The majority of boats and teams in the tournament have been taking part every year. Tournament organizers say it is also nice to see younger generations of families joining the teams with their family members.
The tuna weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22 (pending the arrival of the boats) and continue (if needed) Saturday, Aug. 23 at 10 a.m.
The weigh-ins take place at the Wedgeport Tuna Wharf.
Wedgeport Tuna Tournament and Festival schedule:
Note: A fun run took place on Sunday, Aug. 17.
Monday, Aug. 18
• OPENING CEREMONY WINE & CHEESE
7 p.m.-Wedgeport Museum, Lower Wedgeport. Organized by the Pageant Committee. Come eat, drink, explore the tuna museum and meet this year’s pageant princesses. $7.50 per person, includes one glass of wine, however extra can be purchased. Tickets will be sold at the door as well as in advance at the Museum.
Tuesday, Aug. 19
• CAPTAIN’S SEND OFF
7 p.m. - Wedgeport Breakwater Wharf, Lower Wedgeport. Wish the fishermen well as they set sail for the fishing grounds, a 12-hour sail. This activity is free.
Wednesday, Aug. 20
• JUNIOR FISHING DERBY
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Wedgeport Breakwater Wharf, Lower Wedgeport. Anyone 16 and under can participate. Bring your rod, lures and lifejacket to catch some fish off the wharf. Parent or guardian must be present. Register at the museum. This activity is free.
• SCAVENGER HUNT
6 p.m.: Registration
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.: Treasure Hunt starting at the Wedgeport Tuna Museum.
Bring a team of two or more, a car, and a camera and search Wedgeport to take pictures of yourself with all the items on the list. Preregistration is recommended and can be done at the Wedgeport Museum. $5 per person.
Thursday, Aug. 21
• WEDGEPORT TUNA TOURNAMENT PAGEANT
7 p.m.- Tent located behind the Wedgeport Tuna Museum. Cost: $5. Come watch the crowning of the 2014 Tuna Queen.
Friday, Aug. 22
• SEAFOOD EXTRAVAGANZA
4 p.m. - Various seafood booths will be available in the tent located behind the Wedgeport Tuna Museum including steamed lobsters, clams, oysters, lobster rolls, sushi, seafood chowder, bacon-wrapped scallops, tuna steaks and more.
• TUNA WEIGH IN (Pending arrival of boats)
6 p.m. - Wedgeport Tuna Wharf, Lower Wedgeport
• BEER GARDEN and LIVE ENTERTAINMENT FEATURING CROSS BORDER, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday August 23
• TUNA WEIGH IN
10 a.m. -Wedgeport Tuna Wharf
• FOOD BOOTHS
11 a.m. until supplies last. Rappie Pie, Fricot, Fish Chowder, Sushi, Tuna Steaks, Lobster Rolls, BBQ, and more!
• LIVE ENTERTAINMENT FEATURING CROSS BORDER
12 p.m. until the closing ceremonies
• CLOSING CEREMONIES
1 p.m. - Tent behind the Wedgeport Museum
• BEER GARDEN AND LIVE ENTERTAINMENT
10:30pm to close- Merimac $12 cover charge. Youth under the age of 19 are not permitted at the beer garden.
NOTE: There will be a free shuttle service August 22 & 23. Call 663-4345.
For more infor about the festival events contact Brandon Doucette at 663-2560, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the website at wedgeporttuna.ca or the Facebook page Wedgeport Tuna Tournament.