September 20, 2020

Caribbean turtle found in Outer Hebrides


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803354269From The Scotsman

A rare leatherback turtle has been spotted in Scottish waters after travelling thousands of miles from the Caribbean.

Ironically the turtle was recorded between St Kilda and the Isle of Harris by anglers fishing for tuna!

They did not land any tuna but instead saw the 8-ft long turtle swim alongside their boat operated by Kilda Cruises on Friday.

“It just appeared in front of us,” said skipper Angus Campbell.

“We were on a tuna trip heading out to St Kilda when it just swam ahead. It is the first time in 25 years I have seen one. It was a big one too. But as soon as we got reasonably close it just took off. It was some sight. We may not have had any tuna but we caught sight of another exotic species beginning with t instead!”

Leatherback turtles are the largest of all the marine turtles and recognisable from the black, leathery skin that covers its shell.

Only a handful of leatherback turtles are seen in Scottish waters each year – and rarely alive.

Plastic bag and balloon ingestion have also been found as the cause of death in a number of cases. Turtles swallow plastics after mistaking them for jellyfish, one of their staple foods.

Four species of turtle – Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and green – have all been recorded in Scottish waters.

Meanwhile Kilda Cruises are still awaiting their first “Scottish tuna” of the year. The tuna fishing season will run until October 15 and a catch and release system will apply.

All fishing gear is provided and each each of the six passengers per trip will man their own rod.

Billed as “battle with the ultimate game fish for the catch of a lifetime”, the trips can last for up to three days.

“It is a fantastic opportunity and unique in Scotland,” said Mr Campbell, who runs the trips out of the Isle of Harris.

“Our trips run on a catch and release basis. We work in partnership with Marine Scotland towards the conservation of bluefin tuna. Every tuna caught is carefully unhooked, measured and/or weighed and tagged with a unique number.

“The information is then sent to Marine Scotland where relevant data such as sex, location, dates and times etc are obtained to help in the conservation of bluefin tuna.”

Last year, Mr Campbell had to throw more than £200,000 of tuna back into the sea off the Outer Hebrides – because he is not allowed to sell them.

Mr Campbell even admits that a 515lb monster he kept – after it had swallowed the hook too far to be released – was given away to locals on the Harris, despite being offered £80,000 by a Scottish chef for it.

Bluefin tuna is on the Greenpeace ‘Red List’, with the organisation saying high demand has led to “a severely depleted population”. However, some studies suggest numbers might be stabilising after conservation efforts.

Mr Campbell said that because of the rules they could not sell the tuna – only fish for them.

The last giant fish caught aboard Orca 111, which was between seven and seven-and-a-half foot long – and weighed an estimated 350lb to 400lb – was landed by Murdo Kennedy, 40, from Lewis after a gruelling 35 minute battle.

Bluefin tuna are usually found in warmer water, but it is thought they are gradually moving north as herring stocks recover.

Mr Campbell had previously spotted tuna chasing mackerel off the coast, and ordered specialist fishing gear from the USA.

The crew from Kilda Cruises caught a nine-foot bluefin tuna – with James Morrison and Chris Gunn taking it in turns to land the fish – thought to be the biggest even seen in Scotland, in September last year. They also landed one around 400lb then too.

But because the bigger specimen had swallowed the hook too far down it had to be humanely killed.

Mr Campbell is using different disintegrating hooks that allow the fish to be released even if swallows the bait too far.

Ken Fraser caught the biggest bluefin on record in Aulds Cove, Nova Scotia on October 26, 1979. It took him 45 minutes to land the 1496lb fish.

Mr Campbell, who has been at sea all his life, said: “As far as I know these are the first tuna ever caught on rod and line off Scotland and I am convinced these magnificent fish could become a viable target for anglers seeking big game fishing.”

INAGE: The leatherback turtle was recorded in waters between St. Kilda and the Isle of Harris. Picture: Getty

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