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Bluefin Tuna Handling Workshop Educates N.C. Fishermen

Brian Efland, 252-222-6314,
Efland is available through Tuesday, November 24.

Posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009. Reposted Thursday, November 19, 2009, with minor layout and cutline edits. Package includes photos and YouTube clip.


Thanksgiving weekend traditionally kicks off the annual bluefin tuna fishery in North Carolina. But transporting these rare, prized beasts requires special techniques. To prepare for this winter harvest, commercial fishermen attended a tuna handling workshop presented by North Carolina Sea Grant.

bluefin tuna
North Carolina Sea Grant Specialist Brian Efland explains bluefin tuna handling techniques.

Photo: Ben Young Landis/North Carolina Sea Grant

Click for YouTube clip from the bluefin workshop.

About 20 hook-and-line anglers gathered at Carteret Community College on Halloween eve to hear the talk by Brian Efland, the marine conservation and enterprise development specialist at North Carolina Sea Grant, and Greg Bolton, a seafood research specialist at North Carolina State University.

Bluefin tuna, a federally managed species, are muscular, high-speed predators that are almost warm-blooded. “When that fish comes in, it’s about 80 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Bolton.

The athletic metabolism of bluefin creates two problems: For one, bluefin bodies build up huge amounts of lactic acid when fighting a hook — just like your own body after a long jog. However, this acid buildup can scar the tuna meat, decreasing its quality and market price.

Second, the high temperature of bluefins encourages bacteria activity even after its last breath. If not properly iced, bacteria will convert naturally occurring chemicals in bluefin bodies into histamine, a substance that causes an illness called scombroid fish poisoning when eaten.

The Sea Grant workshop taught anglers how to purge bluefin of their lactic acid buildup and how to properly ice down the fish to an FDA-regulated 40 degrees. A DVD and placard explaining these techniques is also available through North Carolina Sea Grant.

Buyers intensely scrutinize tuna steaks for color and quality, paying $25 per pound or more in most years. Learning proper bluefin handling helps fishermen ensure they return to dock with the best-value product. Fred Walker of the Tailwalker, out of Morehead City, attended the workshop and agreed. “That’s why we’re here.”

“It never hurts getting a refresher,” said Troy Pate of the James Joyce II, also out of Morehead City. The now-annual workshop sees many familiar faces amongst local fishermen who want to stay current on tuna handling research.

Ongoing N.C. Fishery Resource Grant (FRG) research is experimenting with techniques to cool down the tuna even faster, to ensure food safety and shorten time-to-market. Currently, the icing process can take as long as a painstaking 24 hours. Fish caught this season will contribute to the scientific study. The FRG is a state-funded program administered by North Carolina Sea Grant.

The workshop was part of a safety education event hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard North Carolina Sector. Officers from the Coast Guard, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, and NOAA Fisheries Enforcement spent the rest of the evening discussing commercial fishing regulations, vessel safety requirements, and other information to ready anglers for the season.

For more information on North Carolina Sea Grant tuna research, contact Brian Efland at

Greg Bolton can be reached at the NCSU Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at

To download a copy of the tuna instruction placard used in the workshop, visit

To learn more about scombroid poisoning, visit




Photos L-R (Right-click each image to download full-size photo):

Fishermen received free placards with tips on preventing bacteria contamination and quality decrease in caught tuna.
(Ben Young Landis/North Carolina Sea Grant)

North Carolina Sea Grant specialist Brian Efland.
(Ben Young Landis/North Carolina Sea Grant)

The bluefin workshop was held at Carteret Community College in Morehead City.
(Ben Young Landis/North Carolina Sea Grant)


North Carolina Sea Grant:  Your link to research and resources for a healthier coast