Unusual Tuna Hotspots

Various tuna species swim in oceans around the world. The Atlantic bluefin tuna is the grandest of them all; huge, sleek, warm-blooded, the king of Atlantic waters both warm and cold. Some places are known for their big tuna: the Outer Banks, the Canadian Maritimes, and the Gulf coast, for example. But lately, tuna are turning up in surprising places, as efforts to reverse overfishing begin to pay off. With numbers of Atlantic bluefin on the increase, the leviathans are turning up in surprising locations along European coasts. Here’s a look at a few of them.

The Oresund, Denmark

The Oresund Bridge connects Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden.
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This narrow strait between the east coast of Denmark and the west coast of Sweden has been starved of tuna since the 1960s. Happily, that is changing. “It is so unbelievably exciting that the tuna is back in Oresund,” says Jens Peder Jeppesen, head of the Oresund Aquarium, which runs tuna watching trips from Elsinore. Fishing for tuna in Denmark is not allowed, but tourists can enjoy the sight of big, acrobatic fish blitzing on schools of herring and mackerel. Danish scientists tagged 134 bluefin last year, ranging from 7 to 9 feet in length. One 9.5-footer was estimated to weigh 837 pounds, which would beat Denmark’s 74-year-old angling record for tuna. Tracking tags have traced bluefin caught in Denmark to the Mediterranean and the English Channel.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Much of Dubrovnik, Croatia is encircled with stone walls completed in the 16th century.
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It would have been an unthinkable sight 20 years earlier: a forklift making its way along a Croatian waterfront with a 577-pound, 8-foot-9-inch Atlantic bluefin hanging from the forks and a Tunana Big Game Fishing crew along for the ride, beaming with pride. That 2015 catch put an exclamation point on the Atlantic bluefin’s resurgence in the Mediterranean, and Croatian anglers can now be found aboard a growing fleet from February through December. The boats fish for swordfish, amberjack, dentex, grouper, and other species, but the big bluefin is the top draw. Dubrovnik captains boat 200-pound tuna in the Adriatic Sea every year, and the chance of a bigger fish keeps business brisk.

Donegal, Ireland

The Fanad Head lighthouse guides mariners around Donegal, Ireland.
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Donegal calls itself the gateway to the country’s Wild Atlantic Way, 1500 miles of breathtaking coastline. These days the area attracts both tourists and bluefin. Ireland’s catch-tag-release program CHART, which launched in 2019, has tagged more than 1600 tuna, including one that weighed 832 pounds. Tuna caught in Ireland’s CHART program aren’t actually boated, but rather towed slowly alongside the boat while being measured and tagged. Captains are allowed to charge their sports for the excursions, which generally take place within a dozen miles of the coast. Only 25 captains were authorized to pursue tuna in the program, which ran July 1-November 12 in 2023. Inland Fisheries Ireland, the country’s fisheries agency, reports a bluefin caught off Donegal in October 2020 by skipper Adrian Molloy was captured again last September off the coast of Spain. Another bluefin caught in August off the Kerry coast was caught just 22 days later along the west coast of France, having traveled more than 460 miles in three weeks.

Cornwall, U.K.

Padstow Harbour provides safe haven for vessels in Cornwall, UK.
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Picturesque Cornwall in the southwest of England is home to Bluefin Charters, which has brought many a huge tuna to hand as part of CHART, the U.K.’s version of the recreational tag/release program. The business is surely thrilled that the UK will open a purely recreational catch-and-release tuna fishery this summer. “Our bluefin tuna fishery here in Cornwall is by far the best in UK and definitely the right location for your best chance of catching that special fish of a lifetime,” its website says, noting that its sportsman-scientists have caught 250 bluefin in the CHART project, including 13 in one day and a thousand-pounder that tops the scientific leaderboard.

The return of recreational tuna fishing “has been made possible following the UK’s exit from the EU and follows overwhelming support for our proposal across the fishing industry and environmental groups,” said Fisheries Minister Mark Spencer. “It will bring social and economic benefits to the fishing industry and coastal communities, whilst ensuring the ongoing sustainable management of Atlantic bluefin tuna.”

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