The biggest prize in the Sturdivant Island Tuna Tournament remains unclaimed as the event heads into its third and final day.

A grand prize of $50,000 awaits the participant who lands an Atlantic bluefin tuna that tops the current Maine State Rod and Reel record of 819 pounds. The tournament scales, at Spring Point Marina in South Portland, will be open until 6 p.m. today.

Since Thursday, the captains and crews of the 40 boats in the tournament have been fishing around the Gulf of Maine — some as far as 30 to 40 miles from shore.

The first day of fishing yielded a tuna that was thought to be in the running for the record, based on estimates the crew made by checking the fish’s length and girth.

But the fish caught Thursday by Tyler McLaughlin aboard the Pacifier came in at 684 pounds.

After Friday’s fishing, McLaughlin’s catch was in the lead for the tournament’s first-place prize of $6,250.

Cash prizes of $3,250, $1,500, $1,000 and $500 will be awarded to the second- through fifth-place winners. That’s aside from money the participants can get from selling their fish to a tuna buyer.

the end of Friday, four boats had landed a total of seven fish — five were brought in Friday and two on Thursday. An eighth fish was expected to be brought in for weighing by 8 a.m. today.

Eight fish in two days is an “excellent catch,” said Chuck Gregory, the tournament committee’s secretary. In some years, no qualifying fish are landed.

Under the tournament rules, participants can’t keep any fish that are less than 73 inches long.

Even before McLaughlin landed his fish — which weighed 289 pounds more than last year’s winner — organizers were feeling good about this year’s prospects.

“The word on the ocean is, it’s a year to catch tuna. We’re optimistic they are out there,” Gregory said.

The Sturdivant Island Tuna Tournament, now in its 13th year, started with a group of friends who got together on Tuesday nights in the winter to clean and prepare their fishing gear for the next season.

One of them, Phil Grondin — now the tournament’s president — wished there was a good tuna tournament in the area and decided they should start one, said Chuck Horton, one of the founding members, who is now on the tournament committee.

And why tuna?

“Just the sport of it, and their being such a large fish,” Horton said. “Bragging rights are very important to tuna fishermen — more than cash.”

The first tournament lost about $1,250. But these days, there’s a waiting list for participants, several dozen sponsors and $40,000 to $50,000 for charitable contributions. Over the years, the tournament has contributed nearly $400,000 to charity.

Entry fees pay for the cash prizes. When there are no qualifying fish, the money from the fees rolls over to the next year. An insurance policy would pay the $50,000 prize for a record breaker.

The charitable contributions, which began in the event’s second year, are funded through sponsors and an auction that tournament organizers hold before the fishing begins.

Despite the poor economy, sponsorship levels have remained high and the auction was very productive this year, Gregory said. He said he expects the tournament to give away $40,000 to $50,000 this year.

Beneficiaries include scholarship programs at Northern Maine Community College, Southern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College, the Byron R. Gouzie Foundation, the McAuley Residence at Mercy Hospital, the Isaac Baker “Baker-Mobile” fund and the Maine Community Foundation.

The tournament was one of 10 recipients of the 2010 Council for Resource Development’s National Benefactor Awards. The national organization helps community colleges raise money.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]


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