Skip to content

The Game Chef: Well and truly hooked

Always championing sustainability, The Game Chef goes big game fishing to catch and release bluefin tuna off the UK’s south coast in this article for My Countryside magazine.

Steve Porter’s military background was very much apparent as he ushered us aboard the ‘True Blue’, his big game fishing boat sailing off Mylor Harbour, just east of Falmouth. After an informative instruction and safety briefing worthy of the ex-helicopter pilot, we had no doubt as to the day’s mission – hauling broadside at least three, no doubt unwilling and bad tempered, bluefin tuna, to be measured, logged, tagged and returned shipshape to swim and hunt again. The self-confessed angling mad skipper, CEO of the Bluefin Tuna Association, has become one of the leading names in the recreation of a sustainable bluefin fishing industry, that has collapsed since the glory days of UK big game fishing in the 1930s-50s. 

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, it is thought that mass overfishing of the baitfish that sustained them and a shift in Atlantic currents caused them to leave for warmer and more productive climes. But now that they are back, Steve and others like him are doing what they can to establish not only the reasons behind the return, but to also ensure that they are managed in a way that means they will stay, and in turn, support the readily accessible and remarkably affordable commercial bluefin angling industry in the UK. There is also something of a case for a small quota to be line caught, landed and sold for their highly prized meat, helping to sustain an already struggling small-scale line-caught fishing industry. But as Steve points out with his ‘dead fish theory’: 

“Each dead fish caught for meat is only really worth the price of the meat, that’s £1-2k to the economy, whereas we have calculated any fish that dies as a result of a rare accidental death during catch and release is worth more like £690k, by the time all the elements on land, including hotels, pubs, transport services etc. have been considered.”

Whatever your reason for catching, there’s no doubt that bluefin tuna are back in force, a fact that was evidently clear only moments after we motored out from harbour with Steve and his team. 


Let battle commence

We were a team of four for the day, comprising me, my old friend and keen sportsman James; Hector, an experienced big game angler who had fished around the world; and Alex, who lives and keeps his own fishing boat locally.

My fishing companion James and I were complete newcomers to anything larger than a half decent bass, salmon or conger, and we were jovially instructed on the use of the harness and 80lb tackle by Mike, Steve’s voluntary help for the day. 

When not keeping his fishing line tight on the waves, Mike can be found either keeping beating lines tight, loading, shooting or picking up with his small fleet of spaniels. Mike naturally fell into contextualising the technique in terms of shooting, with “following the quarry with your feet first” proving to be as important with the rod as it is with the gun.

And some sport it really is, James remarking how readily one feels “the hunt” as we scoured the seas with our binoculars searching for the telltale diving of gulls, gannets or shearwaters, feasting on the baitfish the tuna would be pushing to the surface. Once spotted, it was down to Steve’s skilled seamanship to get us in and amongst the action as swiftly as possible, motoring towards the commotion and expertly positioning the boat to troll through, with one or two anglers donning a harness and readying themselves near the rods, the sea at points frothing with the feeding frenzy.

Lots were drawn beforehand to establish who would go first, second and so forth, and drawing number one peg meant it was to be me on the front line, the sudden screaming of emptying line signalling that a fish had taken, and battle was about to commence. With an efficient urgency all other lines were frantically reeled in to prevent entanglement, and the still whistling rod was thrust into the gunwhale of my harness; the first fight of the day was underway. 


Catch of the day

Trying to remember all of Mike’s instruction as the mighty fish tore at my arms, I tried to make best use of the simple yet ingenious design of the harness, the power and weight of the fish allowing me to cantilever myself and sit deep into apparent thin air, easing the pressure down into my lower rather than upper body. 

The weight and drag of the spreader bar and tackle tired the fish more quickly than a single line, and after around 15 minutes of thigh burning exertion I saw the first silver flashes beneath the waves. Once drawn up alongside the boat, with Steve’s careful speed and positioning and Mike’s sleight of hand, a boga grip was affixed to the tuna’s lower jaw, the hook deftly removed, and the necessary measurements, notes and tagging took place. Steve’s well-oiled military background meant that, despite a couple of obligatory photographs, the fish was torpedoing back to the deep within a few short minutes of being drawn alongside. The first fish of the day was estimated to weigh in at 90lbs, the following two being caught by James and Hector respectively proved even larger, at 130lbs and 100lbs. 

These solid silver beasts were truly a sight to behold, with a perturbingly knowing and intelligent eye watching each move that was made in the boat above, although as the ever-sanguine Steve reminded us, they were of course comparative tiddlers. He said the larger fish had moved to just south of Plymouth, and yet larger fish can be caught off the coast of Ireland, where fish over 500lbs were not uncommon, a size that Falmouth local and tuna old hand Alex 

has historically landed. This was no doubt of some solace, given that he very sportingly gave up his number two peg to tuna rookie James, as what was to be the fourth and therefore his own fish never materialised. This generous decision meant not only I, but James too, were well and truly hooked.


About CHART 

The Catch and Release Tagging programme (CHART) was formed in 2021 by the Centre of Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), following consultation with the interested parties from the scientific community and both commercial and recreational fishing industries. The programme, funded by DEFRA, licensed 24 boats to take paying anglers out on the open water. Since then, just shy of 4,500 anglers have caught and tagged 3,177 tuna, with less than two dozen accidental deaths, and logging systems proving what the Bluefin Tuna Association and therefore CHART originally set out to prove – that a well-managed recreational fishing industry can be a beneficial and sustainable option in the UK. After reviewing this evidence DEFRA has decided this to be the case, and has agreed to licensing this industry. 

However, the key word here is managed, and sadly DEFRA has chosen to overlook CHART’s advice that there should be a fee to pay for checks for such a licence, with anglers now not needing to demonstrate that they have the skill, knowledge and equipment critical to angler safety, fish welfare and economic outcomes, settling only for a voluntary code of conduct. This means that licences could be issued to pretty much anyone, with little to no experience and insufficient gear, who could then go and try their hand, something that is not only detrimental and disrespectful to such a fish on the small scale, but highly open to abuse on a larger scale. The next step is to move this through parliament, with stakeholder representatives on DEFRA’s steering group meetings still working to ensure their entirely sensible proposals of strict licensing are met. If they are not, then the value of that dead fish in Steve’s theory is very likely to decrease dramatically, and history could repeat itself once more.


Image credit: Glenn Dearing

Become a member

Join the Countryside Alliance

We are the most effective campaigning organisation in the countryside.

  • life Protect our way of life
  • news Access our latest news
  • insurance Benefit from insurance cover
  • magazine Receive our magazine
Enter Email to View Complete Story

This exclusive resource is specially curated for those who share our passion for the countryside. As a member of the Countryside Alliance, you already have access. Not a member yet? Unlock this content by entering your details below to gain access to exclusive resources. Want to join a community of like-minded individuals. Explore our full range of membership options and benefits at the Countryside Alliance.