A Maine soup kitchen received a very hefty gift -- a 600-pound fish -- that is now turning into hundreds of meals for people in need.
Last week, a crew from J & J Lobster in Rockland was out catching bait when they caught something that at first seemed like a seal.
"We thought it was a seal swimming around in there," said Ross Alex, one of the fishermen.
Instead, he reeled in what turned out to be a massive bluefin tuna.
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"It was an adrenaline rush to say the least," said Jamie Steeves, the owner of J & J Lobster.
As Steeves explained Tuesday, their initial excitement was followed by some concern, because his fishing crew was out looking for different fish and was not licensed to bring in what would otherwise be a lucrative bluefin tuna.
"I said, 'Matt, we got a problem;" said Steeves, recalling his phone call to Maine Marine Patrol to find out what to do with the huge fish.
Within minutes, Steeves said that the agency would allow him to bring the tuna ashore if he could find a group to donate the fish to.
A search for such an organization ended with another phone call to the Belfast Soup Kitchen and its executive director, Cherie Merrill.
"They said, 'We just got a 600-pound tuna, can you take it?' And I never say no to anything," Merrill said.
This weekend, volunteers from the soup kitchen and J & J Lobster, led by J & J's Doug Shartzer, carved roughly 336 pounds of edible fish from the tuna, preparing hundreds of tuna steaks to cook and turn into tuna salad.
Some of the remaining sushi-grade cuts of tuna will be saved for a future fundraiser for the soup kitchen.
"It took four hours," said Terry Beitler, a soup kitchen volunteer and board member who was part of the preparation effort.
On Tuesday, the first of the tuna steaks were served to guests of the soup kitchen, which normally serves 150 people for five days of the week.
"We probably pulled 200 pieces today. We'll probably get 350 meals or so out of that," Merrill said.
To prepare the steaks, staff marinated them in soy sauce, olive oil, ginger and garlic and baked them.
"It was excellent tuna," said one guest, named Christopher, adding that he was "glad they brought it here instead of it being tossed out."
For a number of the J & J staff who were present for the first lunch featuring the tuna, watching it being served represented the best possible outcome for a sudden surprise.
"It makes my heart feel really good. This is great," Steeves said.