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All too good to be true! Bluefin tuna story is a little fishy

27.09.19

Bluefin Tuna Boatside

Many anglers would be interested to read the article in the Sun newspaper, “NO FOR-TUNA Fishermen catch 8ft bluefin tuna worth £2.7MILLION… then release it into the sea” (25th September 2019).

This is a report of a catch, tag and release of a 600lb Atlantic bluefin tuna by anglers onboard an authorised vessel, as part of the 'CHART" Catch, Tag, Release Bluefin research programme taking place in Irish waters. It was one of the largest taken so far in the program.

This is another great example of authorised recreational angler involvement in important Citizen Science that will help expand our knowledge of this iconic species.

But the claim made by the article that the fish is worth £2.7 million is misleading to the point of being wrong. Such stories often make these sensational claims. They are founded upon the January 2019 New Year sale of the first bluefin tuna at Tokyo's new Central fish market.

The Bluefin Tuna UK Campaign have researched this extensively and spoken with individuals well versed in Tuna markets. Depending upon a variety of factors, this Irish bluefin is likely to have been worth at the dockside somewhere nearer £5,000 to £9,000, a fraction of the price claimed by the Sun.

Except it wouldn’t even be worth that. It is illegal to land this fish in Ireland and the UK. And there are no facilities to properly handle and process it. So, the anglers would have been breaking the law and for their crimes would have got a fraction of even the market price.

Our concern with articles like this is they risk encouraging some people to illegally chase what they think will make their fortune. This could give anglers a bad name, when the reality is it is anglers who are driving the demands to properly protect this iconic fish. It is anglers who are central to the scientific studies being carried out in Irish, UK and other waters around the world.

We’re also disappointed to see the Sun repeating out of date information on the bluefin. Yes, in 2009 the Atlantic bluefin was under huge pressure and heading for extinction, largely due to massive commercial overfishing. But in 2007, the body that manages Atlantic tuna, ICCAT, launched a 15 year recovery plan.

This plan is a rare example of a conservation success story. We have seen a huge recovery in numbers from the low point in 2010 when the IUCN declared the Atlantic bluefin “endangered”.

Stock assessments in 2014 and 2017 illustrate the recovery, environmental NGOs such as WWF agreed the stock is recovering and in 2015 the IUCN, themselves, agreed the stock was now two notches above the “endangered” listing, even suggesting that more detailed data from the previous two to three years may mean the stock could be listed in the “Least Concern” category.

There is still uncertainty about the exact extent of the recovery. We are concerned about moves by the EU, bowing to political and commercial pressure, to constantly increase quota's at the very boundaries of what the ICCAT Scientists recommend.

This is why, together with the Bluefin Tuna UK Campaign, we will continue to campaign for an exclusively Live Release fishery in the UK in response to their unprecedented appearance in our waters the last four years. Such a fishery, with an accompanying Scientific Research effort alongside, will help to fill the gaps in our knowledge, whilst providing a world leading benchmark and model of sustainable management of this species. This fishery would also bring far greater economic benefits to the UK, and coastal communities in particular, than can ever be achieved from allowing commercial fishing to take place.

Such a fishery could start in 2021. To not allow this would be unjustified and bad policy, given the genuine opportunity we have to help show there is a greater benefit, both economically and for the future of this wonderful fish, from a recreational fishery than the boom-bust cycle of politically controlled commercial fishing.

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