TUNNY IN ACTION (1933) film no: 1241
UK tuna fishing began in 1929, and much of the early fishing occurred off the coast of Scarborough, Whitby, and Flamborough. It attracted many sport and commercial fishermen catching record numbers of fish. This film documents a sport fishing expedition and the catch of the day.
Title – Tunny in Action
Title – Taking Ground Bait
A group of sport fishers, four men and one woman, are out in a small motor boat in the middle of the sea. They are fishing for tuna off the side of the boat with small pieces of bait. The fish can be seen near the side of the boat coming close to the surface of the ocean.
Title – Away Again
There are now two smaller boats both with sport fishers aboard.
Title – Bamboo Pole for Holding up Bait
Two poles can be seen hanging over the side of the boat, and the large fishing pole being controlled by the female sport fisher. They manage to catch a large tuna and pull it close to the side of the boat. The fish tries to swim away, and a system of pulleys is needed in order to get the fish onto the deck of the larger fishing boat.
Title – A Lady of the Party with her Fish
On the deck of the large fishing boat, the lady poses with two men next to the fish. It is hanging by its tail and looks to be over 6 feet long.
Title – Away Again
Title – Here’s Another One
Title – Hoisting Aboard Once More
More fish have been caught and are brought aboard the large ship via a pulley system.
Title – A Mix Up, Lines Crossed. Both Fish Eventually Killed
Two of the smaller boats cross paths, both very close to catching fish.
Title – The Boat Taken Watch the Line Going Out.
A man has hooked the fish onto the pulleys, though unlike the others caught that day, this fish is fighting particularly hard against being brought on board.
Title – He is Dead but he Won’t Lie Down
Title – A Wonderful Two Days Sport
The sport fishers pose along with the crew on the deck of the large boat. Laid out in front of them are at least 8 very large fish covering the rest of the deck.
Title – Hardy Tackle Stands Supreme
Title – And So Closes A Perfect Day.
The film ends as the two boats sail off into the sunset ending a day of fishing out at sea.
This film is among a large collection deposited with the YFA from Scarborough Museums. It isn’t known who made this film; it may well be the same person who made This Is My Town, again made in the 1930s, and deposited with the YFA by Scarborough Museums, which also shows tunny fishing. Another film from the collection, Having a Wonderful Time, a promotional film of Scarborough from 1960, is also on YFA Online.
The film is extremely interesting in that in 1933 an angler caught the British record specimen of 386 kg (851 lb) from a Whitby boat by Mitchell-Henry. It might be that this is the same boat and crew, or it might that
this feat inspired this film to be made. Fishing for tuna (tunny) had started in earnest off Scarborough after 1929 when well-known fishermen very nearly caught two large bluefin. On 27th August 1930 Mitchell-Henry caught a tuna weighing 560lbs some 50 miles off Scarborough; and a further four fish were to follow that year – weighing 392lbs, 591lbs, 630lbs and 735lbs, this last nearly a record. The year before this film was made, in 1932, was especially successful. To put this film into context it is worth quoting Mike Thrussell:
“The climax for UK tuna was reached in 1933 with a fish that is still the UK record weighing 851lbs taken off Whitby in Yorkshire, again by Mitchell-Henry. The latter 1930's saw more fish taken, including a remarkable catch of five tuna weighing 461lbs, 527lbs, 545lbs, 621lbs and 658lbs, all reportedly taken in a single days fishing by Captain C. H. Frisby VC (Victoria Cross medal). Captain Frisby fished for five consecutive days and caught 12 tuna in total.” (from an article written by in 2006, History of the British Tuna Fishery, published online at Worldseafishing, see References).
Tuna had been seen, and caught, in the sea off Devon and Cornwall, the west of Ireland and the Scottish coast, going back at least two hundred years, often mistaken for extra large mackerel. They were also occasionally found in sufficient numbers to make the North Sea, especially off Scarborough, an area famous for captures of the massive Blue-fin Tunny, Thunnus thynnus. They are usually only found in warmer oceans, but if the water temperature rises sufficiently they can make an appearance in the North Sea during the autumn. Thrussell claims that in fact the first definite evidence of tuna in UK waters came when a commercial fishing vessel caught a bluefin tuna off the Yorkshire coast near Scarborough. Tuna, weighing anything between 600 lb and 1,000 lb and very powerful, are very difficult to catch.
Scarborough became the home of the Tunny Club of Great Britain, with millionaires employing local fishermen to help them catch the giant fish on a rod and line. Lorenzo Mitchell Henry was a pioneering aristocrat and professional big game hunter, and had a special rod and reel designed. To test it he hooked it up to the front his Bentley while his butler reversed the car. In 1949 a Lincolnshire gentleman farmer, John Hedley Lewis, caught one weighing just one pound more than Henry's, at 852lbs, thereby setting a new record. Tow years previously Dr Bidi Evans caught a Tunny weighing in at 714lbs off the Yorkshire Coast in her father's yacht, still a British women’s' record.
In the 1950s the tuna disappeared from the North Sea following the sharp decline in herring due to over fishing. Fishing, which at first was looked upon as an activity of the lower classes, as opposed to hunting, later became a sport of the upper echelons of society. This could sometimes lead to clashes. Derek Birley relates a story from Whitby, when in the 1860s the better off from that area clashed with miners over fishing for salmon and sea trout on the River Eske, restricting their area. Sea fishing came relatively late onto the scene, with the middle class taking it up at the end of the nineteenth century: the British Sea Anglers Association was formed in 1893, initially made up mainly of Westminster politicians. Today sea fishing off the coast at Scarborough is still very popular with fishermen from all walks of life.
Mike Thrussell World Sea Fishing
This film is an extract. To access the complete film please contact the Yorkshire Film Archive