Daily Bag Limit: 2 per person or 10 per vessel, whichever is greater (applies to Gulf and Atlantic waters; state and federal).
Size: The smallest members of the genus Thunnus, blackfin tuna do not grow to be very large, particularly when compared to other tuna species. The world record blackfin was caught in the Florida Keys, weighing in at 49 pounds, 6 ounces. However, these fish are more regularly encountered in the 20- to 30-pound range, and fish this size are considered large.
Preferred Water Temperature: 70°-75° Fahrenheit
Similar Species: Members of the wide-ranging tuna family that spans virtually the entire globe, blackfin tuna possess the same general shape and appearance as others tuna. In fact, as juveniles, it’s difficult to distinguish them from other species. However, they are the smallest members of the genus Thunnus, don’t feature elongated second dorsal and anal fins and possess distinct coloration. They can also resemble skipjack tuna and false albacore, though those species feature different color patterns.
Food Value: Though blackfin tuna doesn’t quite measure up to world-class bluefin, yellowfin or bigeye tuna in food value, it is very good in its own right. The top preparation method with fresh blackfin is undoubtedly sushi or sashimi, as it yields an incredible flavor and texture when raw, but it also excels on the grill or seared over high heat. Blackfin also makes a delectable tuna salad.
Appearance: With an appearance similar to several other tuna, the blackfin features the notorious “football” shape that’s common within this family of species. However, blackfin tuna feature black or light purple dorsal sections that fade into silvery sides and bellies. Additionally, blackfin feature a subtle bronze stripe between the black and silver.
Range: Although highly migratory in nature like all tuna, the blackfin is one of the few with a limited range. This geographical distribution is contained to the western Atlantic, extending from Massachusetts to Brazil and including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Minimum Size Limit: None.
Feeding: Like all tuna species, blackfin are prolific pelagic predators capable of tracking down a wide variety of prey in the open ocean at virtually all levels of the water column. With relatively small mouths, blackfin tuna are largely limited to small finfish, crustaceans and mollusks. However, with incredibly strong swimming capabilities, there isn’t much they can’t track down.
Predators: Blackfin tuna are prized prey to more than just human beings. At all stages of their life cycle, these fish are under attack from a variety of predators. Large pelagic fish like bull dolphin, billfish, wahoo, kingfish, barracuda, sharks and even larger tuna species prey regularly on this tasty tuna.
Conservation Status: Though many tuna populations like the vulnerable bigeye tuna, near threatened Pacific bluefin tuna and endangered southern bluefin tuna are in trouble as a result of the incredible pressure they receive worldwide from commercial angling operations, blackfin tuna are of least concern according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, in Florida, changes to blackin tuna regulations were implemented in 2020 to protect the previously unregulated species in our waters.
Hot Spots: Blackfin tuna are present around the entire state and in The Bahamas. Anywhere there’s clean, blue water, there’s a chance you’ll find blackfin. However, there are certain areas around the state where the action is concentrated to defined venues. The most famous, perhaps, is the series of humps offshore of the Florida Keys. Here, the steep rise and fall in the seafloor creates seamounts that attract all sorts of life, including an abundance of baitfish. With so much prey, blackfin tuna are never far away and can be caught here on virtually any day of the year. On Florida’s southeast coast from Jupiter to Miami, jumbo blackfin tuna migrate through the area every spring, with red-hot action in the coming months. Further north off Florida’s First Coast, the action occurs much further offshore near live bottom, temperature breaks, current rips and more. Off the Gulf Coast, these fish can be found in open water, but tend to congregate near structure. Pulley Ridge is always a productive area, but there are plenty of wrecks and structures closer to the coast that will attract baitfish and tuna to follow.
Fishing Methods: Around the entire state of Florida and in The Bahamas, blackfin tuna can be caught with a variety of tactics. Trolling is one of the most widely implemented techniques for these fish wherever they are encountered. When trolling, small jet lures set more than 100 yards from the boat will catch the attention of boat-shy blackfin, and rigged ballyhoo or a larger lure will pick up the occasional bigger fish while targeting other species. Drifting is also an effective tactic, though your bait choice is crucial in this endeavor. Deploying a steady flow of chunks while drifting a few hooked baits back will get you bit, but live bait is your best bet. Whether you’re flat lining or kite fishing, pilchard, cigar minnow, sardine, threadfin herring and goggle eye are all excellent baits. When drifting, nothing stacks the odds in your favor like live chumming. Tossing live pilchard overboard will cause the tiny baitfish to school up behind the boat, ringing the dinner bell for nearby blackfin and starting a feeding frenzy. In addition to live bait, slow pitch jigs have become incredibly popular and blackfin can’t seem to resist them.
Feature Story provided by Florida Sport Fishing. Visit their website for more Species Spotlights. Instagram @floridasportfishing and Facebook @FloridaSportFishing