We see 5 species of Tuna regularly in the Whitsundays. 3 of these pretty much restricted to the outer barrier reef and 2 “inshore” species. The outer reef fish, Dog Tooth Tuna, Big Eye Tuna and yellowfin are a by-catch of the commercial fisho who supplies us with Spanish Mackerel and are line caught. The dog Tooth Tuna (really a member of the Bonito family) is my absolute favourite of the big tuna but one we see only a few of each year. The 2 inshore tuna include a fish called mackerel Tuna (so named because of the mackerel like pattern on its back and pretty much inedible) and the Northern Bluefin or more correctly “Longtail Tuna”. This is a favourite sportfish for recreational anglers and turns up in quiet good numbers amongst the grey mackerel schools and the commercial fishos we use get them in small but regular numbers across the entire winter grey mackerel season. Not too many years ago these were just considered vermin or at best crab bait but as we have come to understand how to handle tuna (thanks to japan) we have come to appreciate just how good Longtail Tuna is on the plate. Sensational as sashimi but my favourite is to just coat a thick piece of tuna loin in beaten egg and roll in a mix of finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil and dill) and then pan fry in a really hot non-stick pan for just a minute or so on each side, and slice rare to medium rare over a bed of steaming hot ratatouille or a Moroccan chick pea tagine. It has the texture of wagu eye fillet and the most delicious subtle tuna flavour.
Routinely over my years fishing I would drive past schools of feeding tuna on route to my favourite mackerel spot. Not anymore. These fish are highly visible at times, herding schools of baitfish to the surface and feeding in a foaming mass of white water, slashing diving fish and usually screeching gulls that also join the frenzy. A small heavy metal (tuna slug “lure”) cast into the middle of the carnage and wound back flat chat usually results in an instant hook up, followed by a line burning run, screaming drag on the reel and 10 to 15 minutes of heart pumping action landing the fish. These are red fleshed and need to be bled straight away and plunged into an ice slurry to maximize their eating potential but when done right, they are amazing fish.
Part of the reason tuna is so expensive is the very poor “return” (fillet to waste ration). In the case of Long tail tuna and 5 kilo fish will return only 1.3kgs of usable fish (due in part to the dark bloodline which runs down the lateral line. It means a 5kg fish I pay about $60 for, yields fillets which cost us close to $50 a kilo…but it is worth it. We even have a “call list” in the restaurant of regulars who want a phone call whenever we have fresh tuna delivered.
If you ever see it on our menu, try it. You will become an instant convert and if you catch one yourself it can be as simple as a hot BBQ plate, a little olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon but ALWAYS under cook this fish.