N.J. Angler Pulled Overboard by Bluefin

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Several anglers discovered an empty boat 13 miles off the Beaufort/Morehead City coast Dec. 8, a harpoon line trailing in the water.

Several anglers discovered an empty boat 13 miles off the Beaufort/Morehead City coast Dec. 8, a harpoon line trailing in the water.

One of the anglers who jumped aboard the empty vessel and retrieved the line found a live-but-speared bluefin tuna attached to the harpoon - and the captain’s body entangled in the line.

Bruce Bartlett of South Plainfield, N.J., apparently harpooned the fish, but his left leg was caught in the 200-foot line, Coast Guard officials said. When the powerful fish tried to escape, Bartlett was pulled into the ocean.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reopened the commercial bluefin tuna season at 12:30 a.m., Dec. 8. The season had been closed since Nov. 19. Bluefin tuna, purchased by Far Eastern buyers at the dock, can be sold for several thousand dollars per fish, depending upon the tuna’s size and its condition.

Bartlett was a commercial fisherman who traveled the coast with a group of seven other boats from the N.J. area. He was alone in the 35-foot boat, Flat Calm, when he died, fighting a fish that can weigh from 200 to 500 pounds.

Friends of Bartlett said he normally fished with a partner but couldn’t find anyone to go with him Wednesday morning before he left Beaufort.

“(Bluefin tunas) aren’t easy to handle by yourself,” Coast Guard ensign Andy Greenwood told a reporter.

Greenwood said Bartlett’s was one of several fishing vessels that left Morehead City early Wednesday. He was last seen at 8 a.m. Other tuna anglers found his boat, the tuna, and Barlett's body at approximately 9:30 a.m. The tuna dropped off the harpoon as the angler pulled Bartlett’s body to his boat.

Anthony Ng of Winterville, a commercial fisherman who was also in the area that morning, told a coastal newspaper reporter that 6- and 7-foot swells were battering the boats. Ng said many fishermen often work alone, hauling in tuna on giant rods, then using harpoons to impale them and chase the fish until the fish expire.

The Coast Guard advises anglers to use multiple crewmembers and never to fish alone.

The commercial bluefin tuna season ends Dec. 20 in N.C. waters.

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Leslie Owens