Satmodo Blog

The San Diego Bluefin Tuna Makes a Comeback

Photo Credit: Billy K Fishing

Most people only know tuna from their favorite fancy restaurant or from their daily canned tuna sandwiches. Even most San Diegans who practically have the species swimming in their backyard aren’t likely to know much about tuna fishing. But tuna fishing is nothing new to the San Diego area. In fact, in the 1950s, tuna fishing was the third-largest industry. Though the tuna industry has long since moved to other parts of the world, fishing for tuna continues to be a sport enjoyed by both locals and people traveling to the California coast. One popular species sought after in the summer months, and recently growing in numbers, is the bluefin tuna.

Facts About the Bluefin Tuna

Worldwide, there are more than a dozen species of tuna such as ahi, yellowfin, and albacore. One species that can be found in San Diego’s Pacific waters include the Pacific bluefin. They are a highly migratory species so are generally only seen here in the summer months between late June and August.

Characteristics of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna:

  • Average Length: 4 – 7 feet
  • Average Weight: 150 – 575 pounds
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Maturity: Most bluefin reach maturity around age 5

What do bluefin tunas look like?

  • black or blue dorsal sides with an iridescent shimmer
  • undersides have silver or grey spots
  • several small yellow fins run halfway down its back
  • small eyes compared to other tuna species

Pacific Bluefin tuna populations are sustainably managed in order to rebuild the species. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, harvesting is limited to only two bluefin tuna per day per person to counteract overfishing. However, with the regulations in place, bluefin tuna can be safely fished off the coast of San Diego with minimal habitat impact. This makes the sport of blue fin tuna fishing popular in the area.

Upward Trends in San Diego Bluefin Tuna Fishing

The last few years have been extra successful bluefin tuna fishing seasons in the San Diego area. With the first catches of the year starting almost two months early, many predict 2019 to be the best year in decades for bluefin tuna fishing.

Considered normally tough to catch, these “boat shy” fish have been making their way as close as 3 miles offshore which is normally unheard of. Additionally, it’s becoming more and more common to see larger-sized bluefin tuna. Fishers attribute the increase in numbers and size to the warming of the ocean off the California coast as discussed in this article. This makes the area an ideal feeding ground for bluefin. Both scientists and fishermen are happy to see such a steep rise in bluefin populations.

Not only are there bigger bluefin and more of them, a few San Diego fishermen even set a historic record with their huge catch. Local catches aboard full-day boats (those who go out and back within one day’s time) are generally far below 100 pounds, but in early June, a 217.5 pound bluefin tuna was caught by anglers just 20 miles off San Diego. Not only that, but a fishing season that’s normally limited to summer months is now expected to last through the end of the year. It’s definitely a trend that sport fishermen are enjoying.

Tips For Your Bluefin Sportfishing Adventure

If there were ever a time to get in on the action of bluefin tuna fishing, now would be the time. With populations growing and the size of the fish found being larger and larger in size, it can be a lucrative affair. Bluefin tuna often sells for between $40-$200 per pound due to its importance in the sushi industry (though your catch will only be legal to sell if you have a commercial license).

Bluefin can be a very difficult fish to catch, but it can also be a once in a lifetime experience.


Here are some tips:

  • A California Fishing License is required, so you’ll need to obtain that first. Be sure to have your identification on you as well, as that’s required by the U.S. coastguard.
  • If you don’t have experience you can find boat charters off the San Diego coast skilled in this area. Catching bluefin is difficult and they are strong. Utilizing someone else’s expertise first will ensure you don’t keep striking out.
  • Head far offshore. You won’t likely see bluefin within 5-10 miles of the shore. Be sure to bring your Iridium 9555  or  Iridim GO! with you in order to stay connected while on your sea adventure. Safety must always be a top priority.
  • Have fresh bait ready such as squid, mackerel, or herring. You’ll need a live bait rod and possibly a spear.
  • Look for low flying terns and petrels. This can indicate where a large group of bluefin is swimming.
  • Use binoculars to spot schools of bluefin.
  • Turn your motor off. You’ll be more likely to get the bluefin near enough if it is quiet.
  • Once you think you have a catch, get ready to use all your strength and be ready for a fight. Anglers who fish bluefin say it’ll be the thrill of your life!

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