Pandemic, new NOAA rules sink tuna tourney

·3 min read

May 20—The COVID-19 restrictions on personal protections and public gatherings are easing. They just didn't ease in time to save this summer's Bluefin Blowout tuna fishing tournament.

The organizers of the popular Gloucester-based tournament, which raised $366,000 in charitable donations in the last year the tournament was held in 2019, have canceled the 2021 tournament that was to run July 29 to 31 at the Cape Ann's Marina Resort off Essex Avenue.

It would have been the ninth year the tournament was held. Now, it is the second consecutive year it has been canceled because of the pandemic and its impacts.

"As restrictions to the COVID pandemic loosen up, it is apparent that we have to make a decision based on current conditions facing the tournament," Warren Waugh, the producer and driving force behind the Bluefin Blowout, said Wednesday in a statement. "Presently, we understand that NOAA regulations are very restrictive for a weekend tournament and there are changes proposed that would make the tournament very difficult to pull off."

NOAA Fisheries is considering a new rule that would limit the number of days per week in the 2021 fishing season that commercial anglers in the general permit category could fish for the giant bluefin tuna.

Under the proposed rule for highly migratory species, NOAA Fisheries would prohibit Atlantic bluefin fishing on every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from July 20 through Nov. 30.

The rule would strip the tournament of two of its busiest scheduled fishing days.

"In our tournament, we fish on Thursday, Friday and Saturday," Waugh said Thursday. "This new rule, if approved, would make it very difficult for us to pull off the three-day event and do it in a first-rate manner."

Waugh, the managing partner at the tournament's chief sponsor, the Peabody-based Lyon-Waugh Auto Group, a a Gloucester resident, said the event also is experiencing the same difficulty securing proper staffing as many businesses as the overall economy returns to some semblance of normalcy.

He pointed out that Cape Ann's Marina Resort "has minimized activities this summer at their location and they are faced with staffing problems." He said the difficulty in assembling a paid workforce has affected "every element of staffing needed to organize and run the tournament."

Waugh added that the easing of restrictions "just came too late . . . to perform at the level we expect."

He said in the statement that his organizing group will look to support "any and all charity-based tournaments" in the Northeast during the summer and into the fall.

"It's very, very disappointing, but in some ways, not unexpected," Waugh said Thursday. "We tried to put off making the decision until Memorial Day, but we were kind of surprised that things began to open up as fast as they did. That caught us a little off-guard."

The tournament, originally conceived by organizers Drew Hale and Rob Bouley in 2011, has become one of the Northeast's most popular tuna fishing events and emerged as a jewel in Gloucester's crown of summer attractions.

It has grown in popularity each year. In 2019, it featured 68 boats and crews. The winning boat that year — F/V Reel Easy out of Newburyport, which landed the winning 560-pound bluefin — split almost $63,000 in cash and prizes.

The tournament also has expanded its scope, tweaking the schedule to include a Saturday Family Fun Day that drew legions of parents and kids to the marina.

It also has become a robust and generous economic supporter of a number of charities — most notably its chief beneficiary, the Alzheimer's Association.

In 2019, the organizers added another fundraising event — the Bluefin Bash charitable auction. The event drew some deep pockets — tickets were $500 each and tables of 10 went for $5,000 — and raised more than $200,000.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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