Stories of oversized marlin are traded freely around the world by sportfishing crews. In the May issue of Marlin, Tristram Eley considers both these reports of crew sightings and current scientific knowledge in asking the question: Do marlin still exist that can break the all-tackle records?
Below is a Web-exclusive collection of anecdotes and analysis not found in the May article?
Stewart Campbell, multiple blue marlin record holder, has seen the big one.
"The biggest fish we ever saw, we ran over accidentally when she was tailing downsea in Cape Verde. We stayed with her for 15 minutes but she wouldn't bite. She was huge and would have dwarfed anything we caught. She was far bigger than anything we had ever seen by a wide margin."
Stewart told me how he could see how fat her belly was when looking down onto her back from the tower. He also said of the record that: "There's no question in my mind it'll be broken some day."
The crew on board was the "dream team" of Peter B. Wright, Barkey Garnsey and Charles Perry. That's the same fish that Peter Wright said he was quite sure was over 1,200. His was the most conservative of the estimates.
This anecdotal evidence is all fascinating but doesn't incontrovertibly prove anything, so let's also consider that provided by physical remains.
An article in the Australian Outdoors magazine from May 1967 shows the badly decomposed body of a marlin (species unspecified) washed up near Port Stephens earlier that year. It was 14'6" long and with an estimated girth of nearly 8 feet, it was calculated to have weighed 1,760 pounds.
Peter Goadby's 1970 book "Big Fish and Blue Water" has a photograph of a bill from a blue, estimated at over 2,500 pounds, which was caught commercially off Moorea, in Tahiti. It dwarfs that of an 1,852 pounder which sits beside it. In his 1953 book "Fishing The Pacific" Kip Farrington refers to a 2,250-pound black (a suspiciously exact figure - an imperial ton is 2,240-pounds) he had heard of being harpooned off
Cabo Blanco, Peru.
The largest reported marlin weighed at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market weighed a reputed 1,106 kg (2,436 lbs). Was that a blue or a black, a whole fish, or a gilled and gutted, "dressed" weight? The IGFA have a photograph of an estimated 2,500-pound blue caught by a commercial handline fisherman off Okinawa in Japan. It supposedly bottomed out a set of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) scales. The Smithsonian Institution cites 2600 lbs as the maximum size for longline caught marlin of either species. There are several reported fish in the "supersize me" class caught by commercials, but again there's no absolute proof.
What then, of the recreational angling sector?
Capt Alex Toki and his crew on Lucky Liz II (all the guests handled the rod thereby disqualifying the fish for record consideration) landed a blue which also bottomed out a 1,200-pound scale. It measured 19'7" full length and had a girth of 9 feet. He "couldn't be bothered to cut it up to weigh it" and they settled on a guesstimate of 1,650 pounds for the Hawaiian beast. Harry Grace did cut up his 20-footer, caught from a 19-foot skiff out of Milolii. It weighed 1,350 pounds minus its tail and guts. Estimates put the whole fish at between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds.
The Largest Marlin
If we draw a comparison between humans and marlin, the fish we are talking about are the exceptionally large examples. The ultimate sized specimens must be the piscine equivalents of the Guinness Book of World Records tallest or fattest man record holders; the eight-foot man or the 400+ pound behemoth. As my friend Capt. Scott Browning of Kamari always says "There are no supermarkets out here" and fish have to struggle to find enough food to survive. The likelihood is then, that the supreme marlin will be the lean athletic type rather than a fishy "couch potato".
So to continue with our human analogy, the worldwide gene pool of six-and-a-bit billion humans only contains a handful of those with the supersized genes that produce eight footers. Even people seven feet tall are incredibly rare - more so in some areas than others. Our marlin equivalent of the 84" man is likely to be quite literally one in several million. The question now, becomes "what percentage of the maximum attainable size do we believe our current record fish to be?"
A six foot man is only just under 75% of the size of the world's largest human. A seven-footer is still just below 90%. If we assume that Bart Miller's 3,000 pound blue is the absolute limit, then there should in theory be a few fish of around 2,700 pounds out there. If we use 2,500 as the ceiling, then that figure becomes 2,250, or just over a ton, which chimes with the biologists' opinions. The chances of coming across one of these monsters is slim, but enough to keep us living in hope. All of this is less than scientific and assumes that marlin and humans of various sizes exist in equal abundance, but it's a starting point.
Marlin (blues more so than blacks) are creatures of the open ocean and are known to range far and wide. The oceans cover almost three quarters of the earth's surface, and a large proportion of that area lies within the tropical and sub-tropical habitat of our target species. Sport fishermen have only fished extensively in a relatively small part of that zone and whilst nobody disputes the fact that commercial fishermen cover far, far more territory than their recreational counterparts, it is fortunate that so far there are still a few places where marlin are more likely to be free from harassment. Of course, places where known concentrations exist are very heavily targeted and this is most probably the greatest threat.
It doesn't require the intellect of Einstein to work out that removal of stock from a spawning aggregation is the fastest way to ensure its rapid demise. If further removal of juveniles takes place before they have a chance to reproduce and therefore replace themselves, the situation becomes dire and extinction almost an inevitability. Witness the case of the East Coast swordfish fishery and its collapse. The onus of responsibility lies heavily with the NMFS and ICCAT who ignored all scientists' warnings and fiddled while Rome burned.
Constant removal of the larger sized fish has seen the average weights plummet and it is now very rare indeed to see a fully grown adult. In effect the gene pool has been weakened to such an extent that it is unlikely ever to recover fully, and the big fish are a thing of the past. Or are they? (To read more on the decline in Atlantic billfish populations - and to see some awesome photos - visit Jim Chambers' website.)
On Cairns' Great Barrier Reef fishery the past season (2006) produced a lot of big fish (blacks) up to just shy of 1300lbs. That is only part of a general trend towards greater numbers of grander plus fish which has continued for the past few years.
We can only hope therefore that whilst so many of the bigger marlin of both species have been killed, there must still remain a small, but significant group of individuals which carry the necessary genetic materials to pass on to their progeny and produce the next potential world record fish. The likelihood that the ichthyological equivalent of every seven and eight foot man on the planet has already been caught and killed is slim. We should therefore be hopeful that given an eventual reduction in commercial fishing effort through proper, worldwide, enforced regulation the marlin gene pool may have a chance to bounce back. It may not be within our lifetimes, but the glimmer of hope still exists.
For more on this subject, pick up the May 2007 issue of Marlin Magazine.