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Tuna fisherman caught out by net rules

It's the big one that got taken away. Fishing boat owner Carlos Rafael was elated when one of his trawlers snared an 881lb bluefin tuna.

But his joy was short-lived. US fishery enforcement agents seized the fish when the crew returned to port in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on November 12.

Mr Rafael had tuna permits but was told catching tuna with a net was illegal. Instead, it has to be caught by handgear, such as rod and reel, harpoon or handline.

Mr Rafael said: "We did everything by the book. Nobody ever told me we couldn't catch it with a net."

A fish that big is hugely valuable, prized by sushi lovers for its tender red meat. A 754lb tuna recently sold for nearly $396,000 (¤294,000).

Mr Rafael's fish will be sold overseas, but he will get no share of the proceeds if regulators find a violation.

The money would instead go into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fund that also holds money collected for fishery fines.

Mr Rafael says he will probably surrender his tuna permits now.

"What good are they if I can't catch them?" he said.

The tuna was probably inadvertently snagged as Mr Rafael's crew set a net to catch bottom-dwellers, he said.

"They probably got it in the mid-water when they were setting out and it just got corralled in the net.

"That only happens once in a blue moon," he added.