Push on to grow charter fishing business in P.E.I.

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 30, 2014

Several kilometres from the shores of Tignish aboard Capt. Joey Gauthier’s fishing boat Julie Ann Jamie, on the hunt for tuna.


It was a nice day to land a big one.

Inland, the temperature was unseasonably hot for a late summer day.

Out on the water, however, a cool breeze under bright, sunny skies kept the men — some wearing jeans, others donning shorts — quite comfortable.

On the hunt for large underwater game several kilometres from the shores of Tignish aboard Capt. Joey Gauthier’s fishing boat Julie Ann Jamie, not a single passenger was working up a sweat.

Not yet.

A good-sized blue fin tuna, though, would soon take the lazy, hazy feel out of what began as a relaxing boat ride towards the lucrative fishing spot known as MacLeod’s Ledge in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.

The boys had already hauled up a good 30 to 40 mackerel. Tuna, though, were the main target on this day.

A red banana shape on the fish finder screen was all Gauthier’s boy and fifth generation fisherman Joey Gauthier needed in order to know that it was casting time.

A special kite contraption cast from a super sturdy fishing rod anchored to the boat had a live herring skittering atop the water surface. A massive tuna soon took the bait.

A good 40-minute fight, with several men taking turns cranking the reel, with Joey at times feverishly maneuvering the boat, brought to the surface a spirited blue fin stretching nine feet in length and weighing 800 to 900 pounds, according to Joey’s experienced eyeballing.

“Hearts going, knees are shaking,’’ Joey says of the adrenaline rush of hauling in a big fish.

The outing was well worth the time and money for Rustico potato farmer Randal Nieuwhof, who left his dusty spud field to hit the wide-open waters.

“It was quite exciting,’’ says Nieuwhof after helping reel in his first ever blue fin on his third tuna charter outing in the past couple years.

“When you have a mackerel on the line, it can fight but this feels more like you have a half ton truck.’’

The growing fish charter business in P.E.I. feeds off that sense of adventure.

Last year, P.E.I. charter boats hit the water about 1,000 times at a cost of $1,250 for a full day on a boat and $850 for half a day.

The allure boils down to the adventure pitting man against beast, and off the shores of P.E.I. the blue fine tuna are among the largest in the world, some weighing in excess of 1,000 pounds.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,’’ says Jamie. “It’s big game.’’

With a high success rate — more than 90 percent of charter outings over the past five years result in a tuna being caught and released — customers are getting what they angled for.

Joey Gauthier started his own charter business in 1978 with cod and mackerel fishing. Today, the lobster fisherman hauls in about 40 per cent of his income by taking others out to fish for tuna or cod.

There are 43 P.E.I. charter boats that are licensed to fish tuna. They each can catch and release up to two tunas per day during the July 14 to Sept. 30 season.

The current 16 charter boats in the cod group fish from July 2 to Sept. 16.

The economic impact of the industry is pegged at $1.5 million.

Joey, who is president of the P.E.I. Rec/Charter Boat Association, believes the charter business has plenty of room to grow in the province.

The word is out that Prince Edward Island is a great place to charter a boat for some serious fishing.

The annual Tuna Cup Challenge in North Lake in September and MacLeod’s Ledge Bluefin Tuna Cup in August draws anglers from around the world to either end of the Island.

Joey has had people from Germany, Egypt and Singapore hop aboard his boat to track down tuna.

“It’s the biggest game fish in the world,’’ he notes.

Anne Arsenault of the Tignish Initiative Corporation, says the plentiful tuna is a wonderful resource that could be better tapped.

“There’s lots of room for growth there,’’ she says.

“It would be nice to see more of the local fishermen get certified and become charter fishermen because I believe there is going to be a lot more interest and demand for it. People are going to come seek it.’’

Kenny McRae, 47, of Tignish got his charter licence four years ago to help supplement his income fishing lobsters. Lobster catches have been good of late but prices are poor and expenses continue to increase each year.

“It’s still good living but it’s not enough,’’ he says of trapping lobsters.

“I’ve got a $240,000 boat that I can’t use (for 10 months of the year...I have to do something. I could see a real opportunity in this catch and release.’’

Joey adds once commercial fishermen start seeing that their colleagues are making money doing charter fishing, they too will jump on board.

“There’s fish from one end of the Island to the other,’’ he says. “There’s no end to what it could be.’’