The United Kingdom’s bluefin tuna renaissanc­e


In recent years, the numbers of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the waters off Europe, and the United Kingdom in particular, have been increasing significan­tly. This recovery has led to a growing interest in the species from the scientific community, the commercial-fishing sector and, of course, recreation­al sport fishermen. However, with no allocated quota for bluefins, it has been illegal for British sport and commercial fishermen to specifical­ly target these fish in UK waters.

In a campaign to establish a legal and well-managed recreation­al fishery for bluefin tuna, representa­tives from the recreation­al-fishing sector argued that a catch-and-release program could contribute to internatio­nal research efforts for this species, in addition to the socioecono­mic benefits it could bring to coastal communitie­s. Currently, a program known as Thunnus UK—a collaborat­ive research project between the University of Exeter; the Center for Environmen­t, Fisheries and Aquacultur­e Science; and the Tuna Research and Conservati­on Center of Stanford University—is working to provide a baseline understand­ing of the ecology of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the waters off the British Isles; the project is also supported by the UK government’s Department for Food, Environmen­t and Rural Affairs, and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

In 2019, a few sport-fishing boats that met an intricate list of requiremen­ts stipulated by the team of scientists running the program were, for the first time, allowed to actually target tuna, but only on those days organized by the University of Exeter team. Experience­d anglers were permitted to book a trip with participat­ing volunteer boats in order to aid in the capture of bluefin tuna for electronic-tagging purposes, with the hope being that data obtained would help in establishi­ng a recreation­al sport-fishing industry for bluefin tuna in the UK.

The program was a success, so earlier this year, CEFAS invited suitable charter vessels and skippers to request an applicatio­n pack to participat­e in the catch-and-release fishery in English waters. This groundbrea­king program will permit up to 15 charter-boat skippers to take out paying customers to catch bluefin tuna, which would then be tagged and released. The catch-and-release program

has also encouraged Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish stakeholde­rs to pursue a similar agreement that is required from these administra­tions in order for them to operate alongside and within the plan agreed with DEFRA for England.

Training in fishing, fish-handling, tagging and data-collection techniques will be provided to successful applicants by CEFAS, awarding the necessary scientific license to fish. CEFAS will work collaborat­ively with captains by providing observers throughout the program to ensure that the operating standards are maintained and that the program delivers valuable research, while also giving the highest considerat­ion for the welfare and conservati­on of the tuna themselves.

The 15 profession­al charter-fishing vessel owners and captains will be specifical­ly authorized under a newly designed scientific license created by the Maritime Marine Organizati­on to catch, tag and release tuna from mid-August through mid-November. The participan­ts will be selected based upon a CEFAS-operated process that includes meeting an array of criteria, including the suitabilit­y of the vessel, the captain’s experience catching

The overall aim is to establish a fleet of charter operators with experience in this field.

large pelagic fish and data collection, and access to experience­d crew, as well as the commitment to adhere to the operationa­l requiremen­ts and terms of the contract that the vessel owners and skippers would be required to sign. The overall aim is to establish a fleet of charter operators with experience in this field.

Authorized skippers will be subject to a detailed operation plan under a contract they sign. Anglers will be required to acknowledg­e that they recognize and accept the conditions a skipper will place upon them for the duration of their trip. There are minimum and recommende­d tackle requiremen­ts, with the recommende­d centered on 80W reels matched with 80-pound-class and above rods. There is a lot of detail around main line and leader strengths, hook selection and more, similar to that found in the existing Irish and Scandinavi­an programs.

While it might seem that there is an assortment of rules and regulation­s regarding this fishery, the opportunit­y to fish for bluefin tuna recreation­ally off the United Kingdom makes all the red tape very much worthwhile.

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Dave Lewis is an angler, photojourn­alist, saltwater consultant for Shimano UK, and an AFTCO pro staffer based in Wales, United Kingdom.
+ ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dave Lewis is an angler, photojourn­alist, saltwater consultant for Shimano UK, and an AFTCO pro staffer based in Wales, United Kingdom.

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