Discuss as:

Fishermen lose massive tuna -- to the law

Stephanie Rafael via AP

Carlos Rafael shows off the 881-pound tuna on Nov. 12 in New Bedford, Mass.

It's a part of fishing lore to talk about the one that got away, but the true life story for a fisherman is about the one that got taken away -- an 881-pound tuna that his commercial fishing boat hauled in. Unfortunately for him, the tuna was illegally caught with a net instead of sanctioned gear.

That difference led to confiscation by federal authorities, and on Tuesday, a federal agency told msnbc.com that the behemoth had been sold for just under $5,000.

The saga began Nov. 12, when the boat and crew, which had been using nets to catch other fish, returned to port in New Bedford, Mass.

"They didn't catch that fish on the bottom," the boat's owner, Carlos Rafael, told southcoasttoday.com. "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."

Rafael, who was not aboard at the time, even had permits to catch tuna and figured he'd be able to cash in -- a 754-pound tuna sold for a record $396,000 last January in Japan.

But the catch was illegal, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, since the bluefin tuna, a highly regulated species that has been overfished, was caught with a net.

"The vessel that caught this bluefin tuna has a general category permit for bluefin tuna, which allows for bluefin tuna to be caught with handgear (such as rod and reel, handline, and harpoon)," the agency said in a statement. "This particular tuna was caught in a trawl net. There is no permit that allows bluefin tuna to be caught with trawl net, even accidentally."

"The amount of bluefin tuna U.S. fishermen can catch is divided up among gear types," it added, "and there is not enough bluefin tuna left to allow for incidental landings by all the gears that have the potential to catch bluefin on occasion."

So what should Rafael's crew have done with an accidentally caught bluefin tuna? Toss it back into the sea, dead or alive, fisheries service spokeswoman Monica Allen told msnbc.com.

As for the big discrepancy in tuna prices, it turns out the bluefin was damaged by the net and thus not valued as highly by buyers. "It wasn't in the best condition," Allen said. 

The service on Tuesday also posted a reminder for fishermen about tuna regulations at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2011/11/bluefin.htm.