UK anglers want bluefin season in 2023

He helped young fisherman Izzy Crotty catch and release a big tuna off the south west coast of England.
By Fortuna Charters

Limited numbers of anglers revived the Atlantic tuna fishery in UK waters over the past two years as part of an experimental scientific Catch and Release Tagging (CHART) programme. Now Mark Spencer, minister of state for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), is considering a recreational fishing licence. This is great news for UK fishermen and coastal fishing communities such as Cornwall in South West England.

“The return of Atlantic bluefin tuna to UK waters is an exciting opportunity that could benefit our fishing communities and tourism industry,” said Spencer, Financial Times. One of Spencer’s main roles is being the UK’s fisheries minister.

The current suspension appears to be based on the verification that the available scientific data show that the current stocks of bluefin tuna are in good condition and provide sufficient protection. Creating a recreational tuna season would also require legislative change.

The Angling Trust, along with the UK’s Bluefin Tuna Association, met with Spencer to commit to a recreational tuna fishery in 2023. Jamie Cook, CEO of the Angling Trust, detailed the success of the CHART program over the past two years. economic benefits, and floated the idea of ​​moving to a full recreational catch-and-release licensed recreational fishery.

School of Atlantic tuna.
NOAA Fisheries

“We acknowledge some of the current legal barriers to this and will continue to push DEFRA to make removing these barriers a priority,” the Angling Trust said in an online post.

Spencer said his preferred option was a licensed recreational catch-and-release fishery, according to the UK Tuna Association, but he also supported a backup plan to continue the CHART program for a third year.

“We had a very constructive introductory meeting where we discussed a number of issues,” Spencer said. “I continue to be interested in recreational fishing and see the significant value in it. I reaffirmed DEFRA’s commitment to continue working with the Angling Trust on a range of issues, including tuna.”

By 2023, the UK was awarded an additional 15 tonnes of quota by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) for a total of 63 tonnes. Some fishermen believe that the quota is sufficient for recreational sport fishermen to keep a limited number of tuna, even though no recreational catch is expected in 2023.

Brief history: CHART program success in 2021 and 2022

In 2021, the UK’s Center for Environmental, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences (CEFAS) led the CHART pilot programme. Thanks to this, the captains of 15 charters participated in tuna fishing between August 16 and November 14. Skippers were trained in redfin fishing, handling and tagging techniques, and vessels were monitored through a combination of spotter coverage and universal camera installation, according to CEPHAS. Recreational anglers booked trips with these captains to catch and release tuna.

The scientific tag-and-release program was successful, with 704 fish tagged out of 421 trips over the 13-week season. Data were collected on length, location, post-fight status, and incident mortality. Most of the fish were tagged using coded FLOY tags, and 19 fish were tagged using PSAT tags to collect post-release behavior. Mortality was significantly lower than expected, with 10 fish kills within the limits of the 10 ton quota set for the fishery in 2021.

UK skippers had a great year of tuna fishing in 2022, with more than 1,000 bluefin tuna tagged.

In 2022, more than 1,000 tuna were caught and released. A total of 25 trained captains participated in the second year of the CEFAS CHART program, fishing from August 15 to December 11. According to CEFAS, the boats spent more than 4,000 hours fishing for tuna, and 1,755 fishermen participated. The total number of tuna measured was 1,113, with 1,090 tuna successfully tagged.

It is noteworthy that all tuna caught from 2021 to 2022 were revived and released, unless one died before release. And very few died, according to the report. Captains could not keep or sell the dead tuna, but had to return it to the Marine Management Organisation. The blue dead were used for scientific purposes and to contribute data to international research through ICCAT.