The first licenced fishing of Bluefin tuna has started today (Tuesday October 29th), with a Harris vessel now fishing out to the west of Leverburgh and already spotting the giant fish.

Angus Campbell’s fishing vessel Harmony has received a derogation to allow the fishing on a catch, tag and release basis. He and his son Alexander are out today with scientists Tom Horton from the University of Exeter’s Thunnus UK research project and Samantha Smith from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS). They’re researching the ecology and distribution of the Atlantic bluefin tuna after the huge fish began to appear around the islands about eight years ago.

The licence to fish for sport and to help research has been achieved by Harris Development Ltd, a Community Interest Company of which Angus Campbell is a director. Development officer for HDL Grant Fulton told today:

“Angus has been involved in developing the potential for tuna fishing for almost eight years and we have been working with CEFAS, the University of Exeter and with support from Marine Scotland, Duncan Macinnes of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to secure this opportunity.

“Yesterday we had confirmation that we have been awarded funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and Angus and his son Alexander have been preparing the boat to go out today. We have on board two very experienced anglers from the South of England and we are already seeing tuna about.

“The fish are taken on a catch, tag and release basis – we have five satellite tags which we attach to fish before we release them. Five is today’s limit, but we’re hoping this is the start of a huge development not just for Harris but for the whole of the Western Isles.”

Recreational fishing for bluefin tuna has been viewed as a new tourism opportunity since the fish first began to make an appearance between Harris and St Kilda. The season is between October and November and the giant fish are becoming more common as warmer waters draw them further north.

Grant said: “The tuna season is outside the traditional tourism season, so it’s a win-win for hotels, restaurants and other tourism businesses if we can bring people here for sport fishing in October and November.

“We’re planning to expand the pilot project and to achieve licenses for boats throughout the Western Isles. It could help the whole islands and will also feed into scientific knowledge about the fish themselves and about climate change.”

Pictures show Atlantic bluefin tuna and Angus Campbell’s vessel FV Harmony (Harris Development Limited).