There is so much going on out in the water in August in Maine. It’s probably the busiest month in terms of overlapping activities with numerous boats of all types out for fun and for work. Everyone from commercial fishing boats to cruising sailboats must find their way around safely and that isn’t simple given Maine’s nook and crannied coast and significant tides, not to mention the sometimes unpredictable and fickle weather conditions.

Lobster boat with tuna tower photo credit mcfa

It’s always amazing to me to see how, for the most part, all these boats co-exist in the ways they operate. The basic rules of the road help to govern who gets the right of way and where it is safe to pass in and out of harbors. But there are a lot of nuances to this coexistence that can easily be missed. Much of that comes from misunderstandings of how different types of boats operate. For example, before owning a motorboat, I had no idea just how low a kayak sits in the water and just how easy it is to miss when you’re up just that much higher. And, before sailing in Casco Bay, I had no idea how annoying it is to have a motorboat cut too close to you and slap the precious wind out of your sails. Now, I slow way down when driving by motor and passing a boat under sail, and I put reflectors on my kayak paddles to flash a bit more brightly as I paddle.

These are just the recreational boats – and just a few types at that. As for commercial boats, there are myriad varieties. Most people are familiar with what a lobster boat looks like – the iconic small boat with a hauling wheel on one side to help pull up the traps over the side. They are certainly the most numerous along the coast in the summer. Mariners are used to watching the traps and buoys go over the side as the traps are re-set.

As you’re looking at these lobster boats, you might notice some differences between them. Of course, there are differences in size and variations in the set-up on deck. But some of these have an extra feature that might look a little strange – an odd scaffold of sorts sticking high up above. It’s not particularly useful for catching lobster, but it is for fish that travel fast and deep under the water – fish like tuna. The tuna fish aren’t caught from the tower, but it is super helpful for spotting them. They are typically caught with longlines or harpoons.

Tuna fishing is one of those interesting crossovers of sorts between commercial and recreational boats. Some fishing boats – like lobster boats – equip themselves for tuna spotting. And some pleasure boats do the same. Lots of charter boats are part of those that target tuna too.

The main species they go after is Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus), although there are several other tuna species that can be found in the Gulf of Maine as well. Blue fin tuna are super strong and sleek giants of the mackerel family and are similarly designed for speed. Dark blue on top with silver bellies, they can weigh up to 1500 pounds and get up to 12 feet in length. Also, like mackerel, they sometimes swim in schools, which can be an advantage for anglers hoping to spot them.

Summertime is the time to find tuna in Maine. They are classified as “Highly Migratory Species” (HMS) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) because they travel between spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico back up to the coast of Maine each year. For those who want to fish for tuna, you need to have an HMS permit. And you must report your catch so that managers can keep track of the population. They are certainly a celebrated catch for their strength, value, and flavor.

Next time you’re on the water or along the shore and you see one of these towered lobster boats you’ll have a better idea of what they’re fishing for and know a bit about their other target species.

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