The development of the northern European fishery for north Atlantic bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus during 1900-1950

Brian MacKenzie, R.A. Myers

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


North Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, used to migrate to northern European waters (Norwegian Sea, North Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegat, and Øresund) where it supported important commercial and sportfisheries. The species disappeared from the region in the early 1960s and the species is now still extremely rare. The factors which led to the development of the fishery and its subsequent decline remain unclear and poorly documented. This investigation documents the development of the fishery in terms of landings, effort, and gears with focus on the time period from 1900 to 1950 when landings were increasing. The species was frequently sighted while fishermen were targeting other species (herring, mackerel) and occasionally was caught as bycatch with these and other species. Information from scientifically trained observers demonstrate that tuna schools were common in the North Sea for 2–3 months during the summers of 1923–1931. As fishermen realized that the species had market value, new catch methods were developed and employed. These included harpoon-rifle, improved hook and line methods, and hydraulically operated purse seines. Landings rose sharply as did the number of vessels and the capacity of processing facilities for bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna in this area were generally medium-large (>50 kg whole weight). The most important countries which participated in bluefin tuna fisheries in this period were Norway, Denmark and Sweden, but bluefin tuna were also exploited by France, Germany, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Similarly sportfishing increased in popularity in some of these countries and attracted many foreign participants. The increase in landings between 1900 and 1950 was driven particularly by an increase in fishing effort and technology. We found no evidence that the increase was due to a temperature-related shift in habitat into the region. Our results demonstrate that the species was an important part of the ecosystem at least back to the early 1900s and that commercial and recreational fisheries were well established in northern European waters before official ICCAT records.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFisheries Research
Issue number2-3
Pages (from-to)229-239
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Bluefin tuna
  • Thunnus thynnus
  • Fishery
  • North Sea
  • Norwegian Sea
  • Temperature

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