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head of blue fin tuna

Blue Fin Tuna, Thunnus thynnus,

Irish Record Fish: 962 lbs 436.36 kgs
Caught: Donegal Bay 2001
Boat Specimen: 331 lbs 150 kgs
Shore Specimen: none listed none listed
Photo Credit:

Introduction: Huge congratulations to Adrian Molloy, the captor of the biggest Irish Blue Fin Tuna aka Tunny fish so far.  Adrian caught it on a new boat out in Donegal Bay in 2001. This massive fish weighted in at just under 450 kilo (just under the magical 1000 lbs barrier) and is the largest fish ever caught in European waters on rod and line.  The next day the same crew caught a tiddler of a mere 270 kilos (600 lbs), and there have been plenty more fish ranging from a few hundred kilos upwards caught before and since.  It is a limited season, from July to November, peaking in the latter months.  Some Donegal and Mayo charter boats (this one is Adrian's own new boat) now specialise in this big game hunting but a seat on those boats come at a big premium!  Some skippers bring their specialist boats up north to fish during the Blue Fin Tuna season. Blue Fin Tuna captures around Ireland have been a hit and miss affair over the last decade, with commercial boats reporting regular captures.  They were referred to as Tunny previously, and it remains to be seen whether 2001 was a spectacular year or whether a permanent change in the fishes migratory pattern has emerged.  Several fish were captured in 2002, with a fish just under 250 kilos the largest taken so far.  John Brittain's boat fishing out of Clifden has taken a 180 kilos fish in September 2002, showing that it is possible to catch them further south.  There is another likely hunting ground at the mouth of the Shannon now being explored by skippers there.

In the Bahamas, they were fished practically into extinction, and these are fish under pressure on a global basis. They taste too good for their own good, so whilst it may be the biggest fish you will ever catch, certainly in Irish waters, as responsible sea anglers we must look to practice catch and release for any Blue Fin Tuna under the current record weight.  Take a photo and put them back.  The Donegal fishery is essentially the return leg of their annual migration from oceanic warm water up past Scotland and into the North Sea.  Previously Whitby was a centre for Blue Fin Tuna (Tunny) commercial fishing, however over-fishing killed it.  It is vitally important that Donegal does not go the same way, which is why the skippers should emphasise the need for catch and release.  PS: the world record is half as big again... 

Boat tactics: There is no question that the only thing you want in your hands fishing for Blue Fin Tuna is the 130 lb IGFA standard rig.  A bucket seat and harness are a distinct advantage, albeit for those who enjoy the pain, a harness and belly belt with cross brace for the butt on the boat rod will suffice.  Wire trace is essential and the standard shark bait of a full mackerel is a bit on small side - albeit it has worked.  It appears that the specialist skippers have invested in Bahamian fishing technology, with the introduction of flying underwater braces holding up to nine large muppet-style artificial squid baits.  One of the frustrations with Blue Fin Tuna fishing is that you can get in contact with a shoal of them thrashing some poor bait fish to a frenzy, but that is no guarantee of hooking one of these massive fish!  Most hook ups do not lead to a landing but that is the price you pay for taking on a giant fish.  Standard practice is to troll lures or baits at top speed around the outside of the bait fish - top speed for a Blue Fin Tuna is 45 knots! 

Poor Adrian Molloy... he was using 150 lb gear when he tackled the monster in 2001 and as such it was not ratified by the IGFA as the new European record.  That record belongs to one of his clients from 2003, at a mere 868 lbs!

The Tag-A-Giant programme has been undertaken by the skippers in association with Stanford University and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) here.  The purpose is to attach satellite tracking pods to the captured fish to allow for a more complete picture of their lives and migrations to be built up - so far the skippers in Ireland have shown themselves to be firmly committed to CPR, and the preservation of a unique and little understood fishery.  If you see an seine purse netters, call the local skippers...

Shore tactics: They have been seen within sight of shore in Donegal - a matter of a few hundred feet around Downings in particular and also off Slieve League further south - so I suppose it is possible someone will hook one from shore, at which point they can change from angling to a new sport: fish powered water-skiing!