The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) was once common in Scandinavian waters (Norwegian Sea, North Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegatt. Öresund). The tuna moved from the Meditarranean and off the North African and Portuguese coast up to our waters during August to October. One of the main reasons for the mass movements from spawning grounds to feeding grounds northwards was probably the enormous populations of herring up here.
Tagged bluefins of American origin have been taken here indicating transoceanic migrations. Commercial fishing for bluefins in northern waters has been mainly conducted by Norwegian and German boats. Sportfishing took place in both Danish, Norwegian and Swedish waters. World famous sportfishing centra for bluefins were between 1930 and 1953 Själlands Odde and Öresund.
HOT SPOT SJÄLLANDS ODDE
The first report about tuna in Danish waters, which i have found, dates from 1870-1880. During those days the bluefin seemed to be very common out of Själlands Odde (southern Kattegatt). However at thattime there was no demand for tuna meat so no one - not even commercial fishermen - fished for tuna. Another reason was probably lack of heavy equipment for catching the tuna.
During World War 1 people for the first time asked for tuna meat in Denmark. It was then the first tunnies were caught and brought to harbour by commercial fishermen. The bluefin were handlined and tired with the help of oil-barrels. The tuna were very easy to locate as they came close to the herringboats and when the herring were brought on board, the bluefin fed on herring lost from the nets.
On July 31, 1926 Danish sportfishermen for the first time challenged the bluefin out of Själlands Odde. They did it with equipment bought from England, but although, several were hooked they were not able to board any tuna. In 1928 the well-known British big game angler Mitchell-Henry visited Själlands Odde together with some British friends. They taught Danish anglers to fish for tuna from small boats. That year nine tunnies were caught by rod and reel anglers. Mitchell-Henry caught two, Ramsey one, and the Danish angler Kai Möller, five. The ninth was caught by two anglers.
During the years of 1928-1931 hundreds of tuna were caught by commercial fishermen and anglers at the Själlands Odde. Sportfishing for tuna was at that time "rich man´s sport" and only 10-12 anglers made the catches. A leading enthusiast was, Danish angler and tackle dealer Ludvig Svendsen. Commercial fishermen and anglers worked together. When the tunnies came close to the herringboats the fishermen signaled to the tuna fisherman, who then put lines and baits in the water. The heaviest tuna during those days was caught by Kai Möller. The bluefin weighed 319 kg and took 11 hours to beat. The average weight of the tunnies caught out of Själlands Odde was 225 kg. Fishes weighing less than 150 kg were rare. The total weight of tunnies brought to Danish fishing harbours in 1959 was 772 000 kg, approximately 8000 bluefins. Today there is no fishing at all for tuna in Danish waters.
HOT SPOT ÖRESUND
Öresund is the waterborder between Sweden and Denmark and also the main link between the Kattegatt and the Baltic Sea, the largest brackish-water sea in the world. In the 30´s, the bluefin invaded the Öresund waters as far south as the Island of Ven. Big game fishing for tuna started in Öresund 1939 or 1940. Most of the fishing during the war years took place from the Swedish side of the Öresund. Well-known Swedish tuna angler Arvid Carlander once had to cut his line as the tuna took him into Danish water, which at that time was occupied by the Germans. They fired at the Carlander-boat.Carlander later on built the first tunasportfishingboat in Scandinavia. It was named Tunnina.
In 1945, Arvid Carlander boarded six tunnies during seven days weighing 1239 kg. The heaviest weighed 240 kg. In 1947, Arvid Carlander boarded 24 bluefin. One day he caught six with the total weight of 1000 kg. In 1949, Arvid Carlander hooked and landed nine tuna during four days. Another Swede fishing the Öresund waters around 1950 was the Swedish king, Gustaf VI Adolf. He hooked and landed several tunas on rod and line. The golden age for Öresund was between 1946 and 1952. In 1948, 350 tunnies were caught, 150 on rod and line and 200 by handliners. Commercial fishermen caught individual tuna close to 500 kg.
In 1949, Danish angler Carl Bauder alone boarded 68 tunnies weighing 10 310 kg. One week he hooked and landed 18 bluefin and was from that week called "the Tunny King". That same year, the Scandinavian Tuna Club was founded. Members came from Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Each year a tournament "Scandinavian Tuna Cup" was held. The tournament ran for two or three days. Teams from USA,Australia, South Africa and many European nations took part. At times approx. 100 boats participated.
The last tournament was held in 1954. No bluefin was caught during that competition. The years around 1950 were unforgettable for the members of the club. 300 to 400 tunnies were caught each year. Daily catches of 4-6 tuna on board one boat were made. In 1950 Danish angler Knud Kyvsgaard caught a tuna weighing 372 kg, which still holds the Scandinavian record for bluefin tuna. The bluefins visiting Öresund during August to October were huge fish swimming in small shoals. They exposed themselves when surface-hunting for garfish. When mackerel was on their menu they fed deeper. Most fish were hooked 4-6 meters below the surface and from drifting boats. Kite-fishing and trolling were other methods used, but did not pay off as well as driftfishing. People chummed with mackerel, garfish and herring.
Re: equipment, the reels in use were Hardy ForTuna and Penn Senator 14/0. Popular rods were Hardy´s Palakona Split Cane No 6 and a hickory rod named Bimini Bay. During the 50´s quite a number of fishermen still used Irish Cuttyhunk lines (39-54-72 threaded). The hooks were made in Norway or USA. During 1953 and 1954, 25 resp. 18 tunas were caught on rod and line. The following years up to 1964 were very much up and down re. catches. In 1960, 25 bluefin were caught, with an average weight of 262 kg. The heaviest weighed in at 328 kg.
Best season during the 60´s was 1961, when 96 bluefin were caught. Fish weighing 360 kg, 356 kg, 342 kg, 327 kg, 320 kg were caught: a 22 year old Danish girl, Birgitte Kyvsgaard, boarded a fish weighing 317 kg. With that catch she took the European women´s record from her mother, who in 1960 caught a tuna weighing 293.5 kg. Birgitte Kyvsgaard also caught tunnies weighing 272 kg and 246 kg during 1961. Her father, the Scandinavian record holder, boarded one weighing 248 kg. The Swedish IGFA-rep of that time, Mogens Mogensen, caught four fish including one weighing 305 kg. USA-angler Boulem boarded a 227 kg tuna and for Hawaiian angler Yamashita the scale stopped at 210 kg. The last catch during the 60´s was made in 1964 by Swedish angler Sven Marcussen.
HOT SPOT SKAGERRAK
The wellknown Norwegian fishery biologist Jacob Sömme says in his book "Sportfiske i Sjöen" ("Sportfishing in the Sea") that very often in August one could see enormous concentrations of tuna shoals in the northeast corner of Skagerrak, between Langesundsfjorden and the Swedish coast, out of the Province of Bohuslän. He mentions one day in August l937, when he almost continously could see shiny sides of bluefin out of Faerder, out of Skagen and along the Swedish westcoast. He had the same experience when crossing the North Sea between the Shetland Isles and the westcoast of Norway in 1924. The tuna shoals feeding in Skagerrak were bigger than the ones in Öresund. Up to 1000 fish could be seen in one shoal. The sizes of the individual fish varied from 25 kg up to 500 kg.
For instance in 1952 one small Swedish fishingboat - "VG Äran", 54 feet - during one night caught 118 tuna with an average weight of 76 kg. Two other boats in company with "VG Äran" made catches of about the same size: a report from the harbour of Skagen recounts that one day in 1948 as many as 1 100 bluefin were landed there by commercial fishermen.
In Göteborg there was an agreement (around 1950) between the anglers in a local fishingclub and the harbour-pilots stating that the pilots as soon as possible would inform the sportfishermen when they sighted tuna during their piloting out of Göteborg. Great numbers of people saw bluefins during the 50´s and 60´s when making voyages by ferryboats across Scandinavian waters to harbours in Great Britain. During a voyage in late September 1967, I also and other members of Göteborgs Havsfiskeklubb, saw several highjumping bluefin in the waters west of Skagen.
I have also seen bluefin almost every year (Aug-Sep) during the 60´s when fishing the Marstrand waters north of Göteborg. Mostly it was two or three fish that broke the surface, sometimes leaping clear of it. I estimated the weight of the tuna to be between 100 kg and 300 kg. They fed very close to the rocky coast, mainly for garfish and mackerel. At that times these waters were also invaded by the enormous basking shark. However, since 1969, I have not seen any of these species in the Skagerrak area. No bluefin have been registerred in Swedish waters during the 80´s, according to the National Swedish Board of Fisheries.
HOT SPOT NORTH SEA
The last bastion for the bluefin in the waters of Scandinavia must have been the North Sea coast between Brandasund and Bueland in Norway. During the 60´s and 70´s, a yearly catch of 600 000 kg to 700 000 kg was normal in Norwegian waters. According to the National Norwegian Board of Fisheries in Bergen the following catches of bluefin have been made during the 80´s. 1980 (282 000 kg),1981(161 000 kg), 1982 (0 kg), 1983 (18 000 kg), 1984 (243 000 kg) 1985 (0 kg), 1986 (31 000 kg), 1987-89 (0 kg).
During August 1981, nine Swedish anglers including myself made a voyage from Göteborg across the Skagerrak and up the coast of Norway to the city of Bergen in search of bluefins. The total distance traveled by each of the boats (32, 33 and 34 feet in length) was more than one thousand nautical miles. We did not catch, and nor did we see any bluefin during our long trip. However we had very interesting talks with commercial tuna fishermen in Brandasund in Norway. Some of them had fished for tuna over a period of 25 years.
They told us that the best catches out of Norway were made during the 50´s, when about 10 000 000 kg were weighed in. The tunnies caught were in mixed sizes. However most of the tunnies caught in 1981 weighed around 300 kg. The small ones - bluefin weighing around 25 kg - had not been seen for years. The tuna shoals fed very close to the rocky coast. Their main food was pollock (Pollachius virens), mackerel and squid but also cusks were very often found in their stomachs. The commercial fishermen told us that the tunnies mostly hunted in deep waters and that pollock weighing 6-7 kg by no means were rare in their stomachs.
In 1995 four friends and I made a voyage from the mighty Lofoten area north of the Arctic circle down to the city of Oslo in a 33 feet Targa boat. We did not see any bluefins breaking the surface during the 1100 nautical mile long trip. I did however receive information that the first rodcaught tuna in Norwegian water was boarded out of Trondheim in Sep. 1928 by a British big game angler named R. Stapleton Cotton. It took him 12 hours to tire the fish. Mr. Cotton fished from a small dinghy (15 ft) with a Hardy Andreas ForTuna reel and 39 thread line (200 yds) backed to 400 yds of 36 thread line. He was using a Hardy 6 ft salt water rod and as bait a small herring. I was told that Mr Cotton lost several big tunnies during his 10 day-long stay in Trondheimsfjorden.
FOCUSING ON THE BLUEFIN TUNA
For several decades international marine biologists have openly warned against the mindless slaughter carried out by commercial fishermen. Researchers calculate that during the last 25 years the bluefin has been decimated by close to 90%. In the case of the bluefin tuna Nordic countries have unquestionably suffered a great loss as a result of the limitless international greed surrounding this specie.
Swedish sportfishermen have, for more than 25 years, decried the disappearance of the bluefin tuna from Sweden´s coast. It was a Swedish fishing report released to the National Audubon Society and the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), which alarmed this renown conservation organizations to quickly react via the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Based on an inquiry from WWF´s Swedish division, the Swedish government took up the acute threat to the survival of the bluefin tuna at the 1992 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference in Japan.
Upon hearing the Swedish proposal to protect the bluefin, the Japanese swiftly reacted at the highest diplomatic level around the world, including a massive domestic campaign to stop this proposal. They openly questioned Sweden´s interest in the bluefin, since it is neither eaten nor (today) fished in Sweden. That this specie has, until recently, been part of Sweden´s coastal fauna for thousands of years, the Japanese chose to totally ignore. With unabashed gall, the Japanese motto ordered: "Hands off OUR tuna!"
The fact that the Atlantic bluefin tuna has never existed within Japanese-Pacific waters undermines the crass propaganda put forth by Japan´s interests (read: restaurant owners) which maintains that this tuna is included in their traditional food, sushi. The very idea that any country can maintain the right to hunt an internationally-held specie to extinction simply to supply its´own domestic market with a delicacy, must today be seen as preposterous.
The Japanese efforts to prevent a formal protection for the remaining individuals of this specie constitutes nothing less than simple greed. Japan consumes 92% of the Atlantic´s bluefin tuna: that Japan officially condones the continuing destruction of this specie is, in a word, dishonourable.
Sweden´s proposal for the protection of the bluefin was based on International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) biological data. Unfortunately, the Swedish delegation at the 1992 CITES Conference was cowed by Japan, acting in concert with other countries: in spite of great support from a number of the world´s leading environmentals agencies, Sweden was forced to take back their proposal to protect the bluefin. The result has been an ever-increasing danger of extinction.
Swedish sportfishermen have, however, untiringly continued their struggle to ensure the survival and return of the bluefin tuna to Nordic waters. During a recent Swedish Television program, April 15 / 96, film was shown of sportfishing among schools of bluefin tuna, in Öresund, in the 1950´s. Renewed protests to Swedish authorities was one result.
Another was the promise made by Swedish National Board of Fisheries representative Curt Johansson, Head of Resource and Environmental Department, before a television audience of millions that Sweden would once more take up the bluefin tuna problem in international circles: this time with the E.U.
So that this promise will not be conveniently forgotten, it is essential that both sportfishermen and lovers of wildlife the world over, quickly and continually remind Sweden´s Fisheries Minister Annika Åhnberg and Director General Per Wramner, Swedish National Board of Fisheries about Sweden´s new promise and of the acute threat to the survival of the bluefin tuna. Their addresses are as follows:
Minister of Fishery Annika Åhnberg, Jordbruksdepartementet, S-103 33 Stockholm, Sweden, Fax +46 8 206496, E-mail: email@example.com
Director General Per Wramner, Fiskeriverket, Box 423, S-401 26 Göteborg, Sweden. Fax: +46 31 156577. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the dawn of civilization, where-ever mankind came in contact with the bluefin tuna, the specie left a lasting impression. Archeological evidence confirms that this specie has been harvested by western cultures for 2500 years; it has been sportfished for almost 100 years.
That yet another magnificent creature which has enriched many cultures over several millenia dies out forever by our hand, is a luxury mankind can no longer afford. The Atlantic bluefin tuna has little time left: it would be a shame upon our enlightened, world-encompassing civilization if we consciously allow the simple greed of a few to once again steal from us another wildlife heritage.
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