Whether you enjoy yours from a can or served as the finest sushi or sashimi, tuna is the most popular fish we eat each year.
Before they reach your plate, it’s the Atlantic bluefin tuna which is by far the largest fish species of this group.
In fact, the biggest tuna ever caught was a giant Atlantic bluefin weighing in at an astonishing 678.58 kg (1,496 lb)!
We’ll start our story of the largest tuna ever caught by looking at the five different bluefin tuna species and finding out how big they get.
Then, we’ll go back to 1979 and hear how the largest bluefin tuna ever recorded was caught off Nova Scotia, Canada.
We’ll also look at just how much tuna can be worth (hint – Bluefin tuna holds the world record as the most expensive fish ever sold) and finish up with some tuna facts and FAQs.
So, get ready. For a bluefin this size, you’ll need a lot of mayonnaise!
How Big Do Bluefin Tuna Get?
There are fifteen tuna species (tribe Thunnini) in the world’s oceans.
The yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) can reach an impressive 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) and weigh as much as 200 kg (440 lb).
However, of the five species in the group known as bluefin tunas, four get even bigger than the yellowfin, and the Atlantic bluefin grows by far the biggest of all.
Before we think about the largest Atlantic bluefin ever caught, let’s take a quick look at how big the five bluefins can get and also how they’re doing in terms of conservation.
Albacore Tuna (Thunnus alalunga)
Albacores are the babies of the bluefin tuna group and are found in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
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Maximum Length – 1.4 m (4.6 ft)
Maximum Weight – 60.3 kg (133 lb)
Global IUCN Red List Status – Least concern. Decreasing population
Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii)
Only found in the southern parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans in temperate and cold seas, until it’s time to spawn when it moves into tropical waters of the Eastern Indian Ocean.
Maximum Length – 2.45 m (8.0 ft)
Maximum Weight – 260 kg (570 lb)
Global IUCN Red List Status – Endangered. Increasing population
Bigeye Tuna (Thunnus obesus)
Along with yellowfin, the bigeye is known as ‘ahi in Hawaii. They’re found in tropical and temperate oceans throughout the world.
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Maximum Length – 2.5 m (8.2 ft)
Maximum Weight – 210 kg (460 lb)
Global IUCN Red List Status – Vulnerable. Decreasing population
Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis)
The second-largest tuna is present throughout the Pacific and eastern Indian oceans. The Pacific bluefin usually sticks to temperate water, but they’re also seen in tropical French Polynesia and New Zealand.
Maximum Length – 3.0 m (9.8 ft)
Maximum Weight – 450 kg (990 lb)
Global IUCN Red List Status – Near-threatened. Decreasing population
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Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus)
The most enormous tuna of all. The Atlantic bluefin tuna is a predatory fish with impressive streamlined bodies. They’re also sometimes called the northern bluefin.
They’re found throughout the Northern Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas.
The bluefin is the tuna that’s most prized by the Japanese market for sushi and sashimi.
Maximum Length – 4.6 m (15 ft)
Maximum Weight – 678 kg (1,496 lb)
Global IUCN Red List Status – Least concern. Unknown population
How Do They Get So Big?
Bluefin tuna get so big by eating! A lot!
The bluefins are voracious predators more or less at the top of the food chain.
The only things that would usually eat an adult bluefin are humans, killer whales, sharks, and some of the other large hunting fish like marlin.
As they cruise the open ocean, the massive tuna are continually on the hunt for food.
Adults will eat any smaller sea creatures they can catch, including herring and mackerel. They also enjoy eels, crustaceans, and squid or octopus.
Atlantic bluefin tuna can live as long as 35 to 50 years, so the largest tuna has a lot of time in which to grow.
What Is the Current World Record Bluefin Tuna?
The heaviest tuna ever caught is recognized in the Guinness Book of Records as an Atlantic bluefin weighing 678.58 kg (1,496 lb).
Let’s look at the story of how this world-record bluefin tuna landed off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.
The Biggest Tuna Ever Caught – October 26, 1979, Nova Scotia, Canada
Ken Fraser set out with Captain Eric Samson on the boat “Lady and Misty” on the 26th of October with one thing on his mind: to target giant Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Ken was a well-known tuna fisherman. In fact, he himself said that he was “obsessed” with tuna fishing and used that word as the title for the book that he wrote after his world record was recognized.
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On this special day, the tuna fishing sea gods were certainly smiling on the fishermen as they fished in Aulds Cove, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Ken hadn’t long cast his line when he snagged the biggest bluefin tuna ever caught.
Ken was a rod and line fisherman and favored using a trolled mackerel as bait. Once the bluefin was on the hook, it took Ken 45 minutes of fishing to reel the tuna in close enough that he could impale it with his gaff and haul the beast aboard.
Having landed the tuna, Ken Fraser and Eric Samson returned to Port Hood, Nova Scotia so the important weigh-in could occur.
The International Game Fish Association listed this record Atlantic bluefin tuna as the All-Tackle Class World Record, and it still holds the title as the largest tuna ever recorded to this day.
It’s interesting to note that it took ten hours for the boat to reach the coast port where the record bluefin tuna could be weighed.
During this time, the tuna would have dehydrated somewhat, meaning as impressive as this biggest bluefin tuna is in weight, the actual wet weight of the biggest tuna ever recorded would have been even heavier!
While other big Atlantic bluefin tuna have been landed subsequently, many tuna fishing experts believe that Ken Fraser’s Nova Scotia world record bluefin tuna from 1979 will never be broken.
4 Biggest Bluefin Tuna Ever Caught (The Other Species)
The International Game Fish Association maintains the records of all the largest fish species landed worldwide.
Many different largest tuna records exist covering levels of conventional tackle, fly tackle, and junior anglers. However, we’re interested in the biggest bluefin tuna ever landed, and the all-tackle world records cover these.
They might be smaller fish than the world record Atlantic bluefin. However, they’re still impressive catches of the largest tuna!
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Southern Bluefin Tuna Record Catch
Weight – 167.50 kg (369 lb 4 oz)
Location – Tathra, Australia
Date – 09-Jul-2009
Landed by – Phil Body
Bigeye Tuna (Atlantic) Record Catch
Weight – 178.00 kg (392 lb 6 oz)
Location – Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria, Spain
Date – 25-Jul-1996
Landed by – Dieter Vogel
Bigeye Tuna (Pacific) Record Catch
Weight – 197.31 kg (435 lb 0 oz)
Location – Cabo Blanco, Peru
Date – 17-Apr-1957
Landed by – Dr. Russel Lee
Pacific Bluefin Tuna Record Catch
Weight – 411.60 kg (907 lb 6 oz)
Location – Three Kings, New Zealand
Date – 19-Feb-2014
Landed by – Donna Pascoe
How Much Is a Tuna Worth?
If you’re ever lucky enough to catch a colossal bluefin tuna, you could be in line for a life-changing amount of cash.
Tokyo’s Toyosu Fish Market (formerly the famous Tsukiji Fish Market) is where you need to head if you want the very best price for your tuna fishing efforts, and it’s the Pacific bluefin tuna that fetches the very highest financial compensation.
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The world record for most expensive tuna fish was for a pacific bluefin tuna sold to the self-styled “Tuna King” Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Sushi-Zanmai restaurants in 2019.
The most expensive tuna ever recorded, caught off the coast of Oma, Aomori, Japan, weighed 278 kg (612 lb 14.24 oz) and cost $3,082,610. That’s over $11,000 per kg!
Atlantic bluefin tuna may not be as pricey as Pacific bluefin tuna, but it’s still an expensive fish.
For example, an Atlantic bluefin caught off the eastern coast of the United States in 2008 was shipped to the Tsukiji market, where it made an impressive $247,000.
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These impressive records stand out for the incredible prices paid for some pretty unique specimens.
They were also both sold on the first market auction of the year, which is known as a celebration and often attracts the best specimens and inflated prices as bidders vie to outdo one another.
Tuna prices are tracked similarly to stock prices and are more sedate outside of the chaos of the first day of the Tokyo auction.
Average prices for the different types of bluefin tuna that you might buy range from $19.50 per pound for albacore tuna, $64.66/pound for bigeye tuna, up to $400/pound and over for Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Other Interesting Tuna Records and FAQ’s
Tuna is the Most Consumed Fish in the World by Weight
The United Nations publication “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture” reports that tuna catch is the fish species humans consume most of each year.
However, it’s not Atlantic bluefin tuna making up the bulk of the consumption. It’s yellowfin and skipjack tuna that are caught in huge quantities. Added together, the global catch makes up more than 6% of the weight of all food fish caught each year (in 2020).
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An Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Has the World Record Longest Recorded Fish Migration
Like many massive fish species, tuna will migrate to feed and for reproduction.
The Guinness record for the world record longest recorded fish migration is held by an Atlantic bluefin tuna tagged in the sea off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, in 1958.
Scientists found the tuna to have traveled a straight line distance of 9,335 km (5,800 miles) when they caught it south of Tokyo, Japan, in April 1963.
For those wondering how tuna get so big, in that relatively short time, the bluefin had put on an incredible 105 kg (231 lb), increasing from 16 kg (35 lb) to 121 kg (267 lb).
So it certainly had an excellent reason to make the world record journey!
Yellowfin Tuna Hold the World Record for the Largest Ever Fish Display
During the 2015 Tuna Festival held in General Santos City, Philippines, organizers set the record for the largest ever fish display.
762 yellowfin with a world record total weight of 25,594.49 kg (56,426 lb 3 oz) were displayed in the city’s market as the annual festival began.
What Was the Biggest Tuna Caught on Wicked Tuna?
The popular National Geographic Channel TV show Wicked Tuna follows the tuna fishing exploits of a group of fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Each episode shows the fishermen catching some of the largest tuna with their rods.
The biggest Atlantic bluefin ever captured by anyone on the show weighed 567 kg (1,250 lb) and was landed off the coast of Cape Cod by TJ Ott, the captain of the boat “Hot Tuna.”
How Old Is a 900-Pound Tuna?
A 900-pound Atlantic bluefin is likely between 15 and 16 years old.
How Much Is a 600 LB Tuna Worth?
The prices can be absolutely mind-boggling when you’re talking about the biggest and best bluefin.
In 2020 a 608-pound Pacific bluefin was sold in the new Tokyo market for 1.8 million dollars.
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However, that price was dwarfed by the nearly 3.1 million dollars paid for a 612-pound Pacific bluefin in 2019 at the last ever New Year’s auction at the Tsukiji Market before it closed.
The biggest tuna ever caught was an Atlantic bluefin weighing 678.58 kg (1,496 lb).
The largest tuna ever recorded was landed by Ken Fraser in Port Hood, Nova Scotia, in 1979, and tuna fishing experts doubt anyone will ever beat it.
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As one of the ocean’s largest fish species, tuna catch records are known for commanding prices that can match their size.
So, if you ever feel like trying bluefin tuna fishing, you could find out what it’s like to win the lottery!
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.