Tourism operator investigates viability of fishing for tuna in Outer Hebrides waters

An Isle of Harris fishing skipper and tourism operator, who recently became the star of a US TV show, is working with Marine Scotland to track and trace tuna on the Outer Hebrides coast.

Captain Angus Campbell, from Kilda Cruises, also runs Atlantic Marine Services which provides specialist support for organisations doing marine surveys west of the Hebrides.

Angus, who caught a 515lb Bluefin tuna in the Outer Hebrides waters back in 2013 recently starred on the Outdoor Channel’s Trev Gowdy’s Monsterfish programme – a channel is watched by 39 million viewers.

During the programme, the presenter, American fishing expert Fred Lavitman, expresses his doubt about finding tuna in Scotland, before finally hooking a 500lb tuna, which broke his line.

Large Bluefin tuna have become more noticeable over recent years, chasing shoals of mackerel off the coast of the Outer Hebrides. It is thought that they are gradually moving north as herring and mackerel stocks recover and the water temperature rises.

With support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and European Fisheries Fund (EFF) Axis 4 funding, Angus has carried out a study with Marine Scotland to tag tuna with satellites and track where they come from and where they go to.

Angus said: “After I caught the first rod-line caught tuna in Scotland, I was approached by the American TV producers. The advertising the Outer Hebrides has received from the programme is incredible. The programme featured highlights in the islands, such as Calanais Stones and Harris Tweed, strengthening the area’s position to attract more visitors to benefit from the important tourism sector in these islands.”

“We are delighted to be working with Marine Scotland, and to receive funding from organisations such as HIE, CNES and EFF. As part of the study, we are also collaborating with UHI Lews Castle College in Stornoway to carry out water temperature sampling. This will provide a clearer idea of time and water temperature change and how it corresponds with the arrival of the tuna”

Anne MacAulay from HIE, said: “The tuna study aims to support ocean science research, enabling us to gain a wider understanding of the marine life in the Outer Hebrides and the opportunities it presents for economic development. The TV programme, which has a global reach, is wonderful advertising for the area, highlighting the activity based tourism opportunities available here”

Francis Neat, researcher from Marine Scotland, said: “Marine Scotland needed to learn more about blue fin tuna in Scottish waters - how many there might be, how long they reside here, where they come from, and where they spawn. By working with Angus we were able to satellite tag three of these giant fish last year. The information we received suggests that the tuna swam thousands of miles and dived to depths in excess of 1000 metres.

“This study is aligned with the tagging programme of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna and is an important first step toward understanding blue fin tuna behaviour in Scottish waters and assessing in the longer term if a recreational catch-and-release sport fishery could be sustainable.”

Funding is currently being sought for further work on tagging tuna this year.