The Fish That Came With a Catch

Dan and Claire Dillon bag tuna in the kitchen of their Herndon home with help from neighbor Barbara Conzone, right.
Dan and Claire Dillon bag tuna in the kitchen of their Herndon home with help from neighbor Barbara Conzone, right. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 9, 2005

When a man lands a big fish, the tale is told of fight and peril, exhaustion and triumph. The beast is weighed, the record inscribed, the photo taken, bragging rights secured. And that is where the story usually ends.

There's Dan Dillon, back at the Indian River Marina near Bethany Beach, standing behind the biggest bluefin tuna ever caught off the coast of Delaware -- 873 pounds, 9 feet 7 inches long, more than six feet in girth. What a picture.

Now here is Claire Dillon. She's Dan's wife. She stays down at the shore until Wednesday, after Dan goes back to work, and when she gets home to Herndon, the entire house smells of raw fish. She follows her nose. She opens the refrigerator.

"He had put a couple of bags of tuna in the refrigerator to thaw, and being the total man," Claire says, "he sticks them in there, right on the shelf, and this fish blood has leaked out, all over the bottom of the refrigerator, and down over the drain, and all over the floor under the refrigerator."

She tells herself to laugh as she moves the refrigerator away from the wall to clean up the blood, and thinks: "Here we go with all the fish." Dan lights lots of scented candles.

So you catch a trophy of a fish, get lots of publicity, and then what?

A power saw is involved. "And monster knives," says Dan, 39, who watched on the dock last Saturday while three men took three hours to butcher the massive fish. When the job was done, there was more than 500 pounds -- dozens of huge plastic bags of tuna, cut into steaks the size of dinner plates.

Giant bluefin tuna, whose fatty bellies are prized for buttery toro sushi, are the Powerballs of commercial fishing. They can fetch a fisherman $6 to $20 a pound. Because the tuna is the most muscular fish in the water, with a small body cavity, 80 percent of it is edible. If the Dillons could have flown that baby straight to Japan, where the fish is most prized, they might have netted $12,800. But the charter boat captain who took Dillon and three friends out to fish for shark doesn't have a federal permit to sell bluefin, nor do most charter operators in the mid-Atlantic.

Since Dillon couldn't sell it, he would have to eat it.

"It's pretty amazing when you think about the challenge of getting rid of all that fish," says Dan.

The tuna was divided evenly among Dillon, his friends and the captain and mate, and still Dillon had two very larger coolers filled with 100 pounds of fish. He went back to his parents' beach house on Fenwick Island, and the whole extended family of 20 ate grilled tuna that night. He gave some away. He put more in his folks' freezer.

"I'm one of eight kids, so I said to my siblings, 'Here's a bag of fish -- have fun,' " Dan says. "I love fish, but you can't eat tuna morning, noon and night."

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