Rare catch may have huge implications

Matthew Asquith of Whitby Seafish with the rare tuna
Matthew Asquith of Whitby Seafish with the rare tuna

A PAIR of fish, caught recently off Sandsend, may signal the return of shoals of herring to the North Sea.

For years Whitby’s fishing industry was built around herring and the harbour was lined with cobles as skippers sought to cash in on this bounty.

Whitby's old herring fleet

Whitby's old herring fleet

Tuna also came to the area to feed on the herring, but with the advance of technology following the Second Wold War, the North Sea herring population was decimated, and so the tuna disappeared too.

The last tuna caught off Whitby was around 60 years ago, until Martin Hopper, skipper of the coble Courage WY 151, discovered two Atlantic bonito in his nets while fishing for salmon and sea trout on Friday 22 June.

The bonito, a member of the tuna family, were bought by Matthew Asquith of Whitby Seafish, who said that in 25 years in the business he had never seen a tuna caught in local waters.

The North Sea used to have a healthy tuna population which fed on the shoals of herring.

Huge tuna specimens were once caught off Whitby

Huge tuna specimens were once caught off Whitby

The largest ever caught in Whitby waters was an 815lb tuna caught off Whitby in 1933 by big game fisherman Lorenzo Cecil Vaughan Mitchell-Henry, a pioneer in angling.

However in the 1950s the herring fishery collapsed due to overfishing, depriving tuna of their primary food sources.

Charter fisherman Des King is skipper of Chieftain and said that he believes herring are returning to North Sea in huge numbers, and so tuna may not be far behind.

He said: “Herring quotas have been reduced again and they are worth less commercially than they used to be.

“In 2009 I saw huge shoals of herring on our sounder and off the Dogger Bank in 2008 we also saw boiling areas, with gulls diving to feed, a classic sign of herring shoals.”

The two 1.75kg bonito are a far cry from the huge fish that were landed 70 years ago, but they and were offered to the Fox and Hounds restaurant at Goldsborough.

Mr Asquith added that he “could have sold the fish dozens of times over”.

The Atlantic bonito is usually found in the coastal waters of the Atlantic ocean and has been previously caught off the southwest coast of England.

It is very infrequently caught in the North Sea, and its last appearance in 2010 was reported to the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science as a rare find.