BELFAST — When Belfast Soup Kitchen Executive Director Cherie Merrill got a call Friday night, Sept. 17, asking if she was interested in a 600-pound tuna, she blurted out, “Of course I’ll take it!

“Only I would get a call like that,” she said.

Merrill said Doug Shartzer had called her wanting to donate the large fish caught by J & J Lobster of Rockland to feed people in need. The tuna had gotten caught in the company’s seine net and unfortunately could not be revived.

According to Shartzer, J & J Lobster uses its seine net to catch pogie fish to use as bait for lobsters. What might have happened, Shartzer said, is the tuna started feeding on the pogies.

“A few calls were made,” he said, “… and with the cooperation of the Maine State Department of Marine Fisheries, the decision was made to not waste the fish.”

Doug Shartzer breaks down big chunks of tuna into smaller steaks at the Belfast Soup Kitchen Sept. 18. Source: Facebook

He said his plan for the day had been to replace a starter in his boat when, en route to the harbor with his son, he received a call from J & J owner Jamie Steeves asking for some help. 

Jamie texted him, “We landed a tuna.” Shartzer, a semi-retired fisherman originally from New Jersey, knew that unless the fish was caught with a rod and reel, it would not be a legal catch. 

He spoke with agents from Marine Fisheries, who suggested he find a local charity to donate the meat to. Shartzer said he tried several area soup kitchens, including Rockland, Jefferson and even Augusta, but no one answered the phone. That is, until he was able to connect with Merrill.

According to Shartzer, the fish weighed around 575 to 600 pounds and yielded 350 pounds of fresh bluefin tuna meat. It took about three hours to filet.

Doug Shartzer prepares to process a 600-pound tuna Sept. 17. Source: Facebook

Merrill said Shartzer chunked the fish meat and processed it into tuna steaks and toro sushi, and the Harbor Patrol provided coolers and delivered the meat to the soup kitchen.

Merrill called Shartzer on Saturday and asked him if it would be possible to help the kitchen staff at the soup kitchen process the fish further. Shartzer obliged, and they broke down the larger pieces and vacuum-sealed the meat.

The high-end toro sushi, Shartzer said, could be used for benefits, with the rare meat fetching top prices.

Merrill said, “I’m just so grateful for Doug and his help, and for thinking of us — and for all the volunteers who helped.”