Hunting For Bluefin Tuna in the Adriatic Sea with Tunana

I have met Marko a couple of times surfing in the Adriatic sea. I was surprised when I found out that he is the captain of a tuna fishing boat that does big game tuna fishing in the Adriatic sea. I don’t know why, but I always assumed that is something that you do in places like Florida. So I was super happy when we connected. First for a tuna fishing trip and second, for this interview. I had loads of questions about tuna fishing in the Adriatic around Istra peninsula and Marko was more than happy to answer them.

Can you introduce yourself, what did you do before Tunana and how/why did you start with big game fishing?

My name is Marko, I was born in Pula in 1990. Since I was a child I love spending time at sea. During high school and first years of college I worked in a scuba diving center in Medulin as a dive guide. I was always amazed by the sea and the calmness that I felt while just driving on the boat, and especially during diving. I was studying on Faculty of Maritime Studies in Rijeka. In the meantime, in 2013, my older brother Ćići bought a 9m boat for big game fishing. This was my first encounter with tuna fishing and after many failed attempts of catching one, the day finally came and I caught a 110kg tuna and I completely fell in love with big game fishing. I was spending lot of time at sea, gaining lot of experience and experimenting with fishing techniques.

In 2017 I started my journey on container vessels, first as deck cadet and later on as navigational officer. However, by the end of 2020 me and my brother decided to buy a bigger boat and I quit my navigational officer job so I could focus entirely on managing the big game fishing business.

What is it about tuna fishing that excites you?

First of all, just by mentioning tuna everyone’s first thought is a giant, maybe even a bit mysterious fish that can be found only somewhere out in god knows what big ocean. That one alone already makes it somewhat special.

Then there comes spending a lot of time in nature out at sea, endless stunning sunrises and sunsets while fishing. The thing is, fishing is very simple but it starts long before you leave the port with the boat. I have to think about various locations and fishing spot, take in account the tides, winds, moon phases and then decide the departure time and exact fishing spot. So once we have our rods and baits in the sea we basically throw baits around and wait.

The adrenalin rush I feel when I hear the sound of the reel has no comparation with anything else! This big rods bending and reels rolling out so loud I just can’t have enough of it. That moment when I realize that the fish is hooked is really one of my favorite experiences, even after more that 200 tunas.

I was really surprised when I heard that there is tuna and big game tuna fishing in the Adriatic sea, I always assumed that is something that you do in idk… Florida:). Can you tell me something about that?

Actually that was a real problem when we first started with bookings. Most of people didn’t believe there are tunas in Croatia. South Croatia was active in tuna fishing for a long time already (I suppose 50+ years) but in Istria tuna fishing is a thing the last 20 years approximately.

Big game tuna fishing in the Adriatic sea

Yes, there is big game tuna fishing in the Adriatic sea

As you probably know there are different species of tuna: yellowfin tuna (in Rio Mare cans), albacore tuna & big eye tuna (10kg approx. size, can be found as canned as well) and the most prestigious one the Bluefin tuna. That’s the one you read about crazy prices in Japan  and that’s the one the best sushi restaurant use for their meals.

When it comes to big game fishing, the Adriatic doesn’t rank so well in my opinion. By that I mean it is not yet well known to people that love fishing that you can actually catch a trophy size tuna in the Adriatic. The misconception is that you have to go to Florida, or New Zealand to catch a giant Bluefin tuna. Most of guest that I got on the boat they tell me they had no idea it was possible to book a big game fishing charter in Croatia and actually catch a tuna. That is a clear sign there is so much space for improvement and better advertisement to put Croatia and the Adriatic Sea on the world map for big game fishing. However, I think that can be done only by the Croatian Touristic Organization, or by the help of an organization dedicated to touristic fishing, but there is none at the moment in Croatia.

The bluefin in Croatia ranges from 30kg to 300+ kg. In the South (Vodice, Komiža, Dubrovnik….) you can catch more tuna, but they are always »smaller« 30-50 kg. In the north however, there is always a chance to catch 100+ kg tuna.

In the south they can catch the swordfish as well also 30 to 100 kg fish. In the Istrian area the swordfish is very rare. I got only 3 of them.

One honorable mention goes to Mahi Mahi fish as well, it’s still a rare catch, but is very fun and really beautiful fish, with a size that vary from 5 to 15 kg.

Tell me a bit about the tuna that you catch

In Croatia so far we catch only the Bluefin tuna, that’s also the one which can get up to 300+ kg in size. They need approx. 40 years to grow 250kg and more. The smallest size we usually catch is 30-40kg and that’s a 4-5 years old tuna.

The tuna season in Croatia for us, recreational and sport fisherman, goes from April to December. April and May being very good for spinning and trolling fishing techniques. End of May till beginning of July it is impossible to catch a tuna because it’s spawning season and all the fish migrates from the Adriatic in the south in the Mediterranean Sea.

So I would say mid-July till mid November is high season for tuna fishing. My favorite period are September and October. Also my favorite fishing technique are drifting or anchored fishing and fishing at dawn close to the big fishing vessels that catch sardines.

What kind of permits do you need for tuna fishing in the Adriatic sea?

We use 2 different licenses.

SPORT fishing license. It means we are allowed to go outside and fish for the tuna BUT it has to be CATCH AND RELEASE! Also the hook that we use has to be biodegradable so it falls off the tuna after some time.

RECREATIONAL license + RECREATIONAL fishing quote. This is the upgraded license that allows us to take out 500kg of tuna per season (from July to 31st October)

The thing is there are only a limited number of licenses of that kind. Each year is different. When it started 7-8 years ago there was only 1 available than 2,5, 10 and in 2022 there where 20. We have to go through a bidding process. Nobody knows what other will offer and the 20 biggest offers have a chance to buy the license. So for example I’m going to offer 8€ per Kg for a total of 4000€ and hope that with that kind of offer I’ll be in the top 20.

We have to repeat the same process every year and each year the price goes up more and more. Important to note that this are only recreational licenses so If I want to sell the tuna I cannot give you the invoice and sell the tuna. I can legally only give it as a gift to someone or keep it for myself.

Actually, most of the tuna we catch we clean nicely and vacuum it and than refrigerate it so we have clean high quality tuna meat for the entire winter.

What was your most memorable catch?

Hard to decide……

I would say the one when I got back from the first 6 months contract on a container vessel. It was in July 2017.

In the afternoon I fly from Malta to Rome, than Rome to Trieste. I arrive at midnight approx. I’m home at 02:00 take a quick shower, change clothes and at 03:30 I’m already on the boat. 05:00 I’m by a sardine fishing boat (my brothers boat) we see each other after more than 6 months, say hello to him and after few minutes the rod bends and the reel starts to scream!! Just by thinking about that scenario the feeling is incredible! Before you know it the tuna was on deck, 50kg tuna, not a giant that everyone dreams about but for me one of the most incredible experiences.

Other honorable mentions:

-triple strike before dawn with my friends Charlie, Dejke and my father.

-giant 260kg tuna with my brother Ćići

-first tuna ever 211cm long and 110kg

-first swordfish 78kg

-3 days in a row last second strikes with my brother in South Croatia

-and so on…..

I would say every tail tells a story and for me it’s more about the experience at sea and the people I share it with than the actual size of the tuna.

Can you tell me what are the best and the worst things about running a big game fishing business?

The best thing is that I can live a lifestyle at sea, the way I like it. Spending lot of time in nature, witnessing countless dawns and sunsets, Meeting interesting people and be privileged to catch tuna for almost 100 days per year.

The challenging part are unfortunately the elevated costs of maintenance and running the business. These costs are getting higher each year so the price to live such experience can be too elevated for some fishermen. But I have private and shared options available, and father-son trips special discounts so that more people can take part of this amazing experience.

Also sometimes due to weather conditions I have to make 2 trips in a day witch translates in 16-18 hours at sea with only 2-3 hours of brake in between and this it’s physically and mentally really challenging when you work like that for few weeks in row.

There is another thing that I didn’t quite master yet and that’s the reality that I cannot catch a tuna on every single trip. And it actually makes me sad! I want everyone to experience the adrenalin rush when the rod bends and the excitement during the fight with the tuna, but that’s literally impossible.

The good thing is that I noticed that all of my guest really enjoy the experience alone, the boat, my crew, the food (always something local and high quality) and the tuna comes as cherry on top in this complete lifestyle fishing experience.

Man, I can confirm that the food was awesome and the whole experience as well! What kind of boat do you use?

The current boat is Cantieri Costa Smeralda 39feet (11,5m) with a fly bridge. It was build in Italy in 1992 and is inspired by the vintage American sport fishing boats. With a large stern working deck, a saloon, 2 bedrooms and a toilet. The boat is perfect for a group of 3 to 6-7 persons when we go fishing. If we go for a swimming tour it can take up to 12 persons and there will be still plenty of space.

Tunana fishing boat

Tunana fishing boat

The boat has 2 Caterpillar engines each 370HP, 3 refrigerators, radar, sonder, gps….

The thing that everyone asks me is what’s the consumption? It is approx. 100L per Hour with a speed of 18-20 knots, depending on weather conditions and number of persons and equipment on board.

Plans for the future?

The goal is optimize the business, invest more in the boat to make it even more comfortable, to get better in fishing year after year. I would like to focus on target guests from Scandinavian region.

The main goal is to have the same number of fishing trips but spread more evenly between April and November. With a special focus on the period end of September to the beginning of November. This is a great fishing season for tuna, and I know every single fisherman would enjoy to spend few days in Istria in that period while catching tuna with me.

In other words, to give my small contribution of putting Istria on a fishing map as a serious fishing destination in Europe.

Where can people find out more about Tunana?

All the information about, fishing trips, accommodations, prices…can be found on our website www.tunana-fishing.com and for everyday lifestyle we have the Instagram account @tunanafishing.

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