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Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: British recreational campaign receives huge boost from Ireland

11.02.19

Martin Salter with George Eustice x550px

Martin Salter from the Angling Trust with Fisheries Minister George Eustice

Angling groups campaigning for the establishment of a UK live-release bluefin tuna recreational fishery have received a huge boost from Ireland.

The Angling Trust and campaign group Bluefin Tuna UK have warmly welcomed the news that Ireland has secured approval from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the European Union (EU) for the introduction of a science-based catch, tag and release research programme utilising Irish recreational anglers.

For the last three years giant Atlantic Bluefin Tuna have appeared in substantial numbers in waters around the British Isles. From Cornwall, through the Celtic Deeps off south west Wales, off the Irish west coast and throughout the Western Isles of Scotland, hundreds of sightings have been made.

Their presence in UK waters – a return after an absence since the early 1950s – presents a fantastic opportunity for the UK. Last November the Angling Trust and Bluefin Tuna UK launched a joint campaign to establish a live-release sport fishery that would deliver a significantly greater economic value, per tonne, than that of a traditional commercial fishery, with the societal benefits spread across a wider cross section of coastal communities. The fishery would also support broader, global, scientific research into bluefin tuna through the sort of parallel tagging programmes already being supported by WWF in Sweden and Denmark and now about to occur in Ireland.

Once the UK has left the European Union this could be achieved by the UK applying to join the ICCAT as a sovereign member and requesting a quota in our own right.

The campaign has been gathering pace and has the support of key MPs plus thousands of recreational anglers and charter boat skippers from Cornwall to Scotland. Last week campaigners met Fisheries Minister George Eustice to press the case for a UK fishery.

Ireland’s new bluefin tuna management plan was agreed following the adoption by ICCAT of a new management plan at their 2018 Annual Meeting which took place in Dubrovnik in November of last year.

Michael Creed, the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said: “As part of the negotiations on the new international management plan for bluefin tuna in the east Atlantic, Ireland was able to secure agreement that will allow countries like Ireland, that do not have a commercial bluefin tuna quota, to operate a catch-tag-release fishery for gathering scientific data.

"My department is currently working with the Marine Institute and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority on a pilot project that will allow up to 15 angling vessels with trained tagging operators to target bluefin tuna in 2019.

"The aim of the project is to build on work undertaken to date and to increase our knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of bluefin tuna in the waters off the Irish coast. It will also provide an ancillary benefit in that it will support angling tourism in peripheral coastal communities, including in particular Donegal."

Previously, under ICCAT rules, Ireland could not allow targeted angling for bluefin tuna as they did not have a bluefin tuna quota. The research programme derogation secured by Ireland will now allow targeting for tagging purposes only by recreational anglers.

Steve Murphy, Director of Bluefin Tuna UK, said: “We applaud the decision by ICCAT and the EU to provide a derogation for the operation of a formal catch, tag and release bluefin programme in Irish waters.

"The authorities are finally recognising the opportunity provided by the continued presence of these magnificent fish to undertake valuable research in a way that brings economic and social benefits to those communities. It confirms the view that recreational anglers can be invaluable allies in executing important research programmes.”

Martin Salter, the Angling Trust's Policy Chief, added: “Although we have just had an extremely positive meeting with our own Fisheries Minister George Eustice the UK is now having to play catch up with our Irish friends. They have indicated that their research programme will have the large scale involvement of recreational anglers, in marked contrast to the UK’s current ThunnusUK programme which is limited in scale and geographical coverage.

"Ireland, the EU and ICCAT have recognised the good sense in boosting both science and tourism by adopting this inclusive, recreational angler based programme. With a proven recreational mortality rate of less than 5%, catch and release anglers can enjoy great sport, put thousands of pounds into struggling coastal economies and help scientist discover more about why these amazing giants of the ocean have returned to our waters after a 70 year absence.”

David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust, said: “Ireland is taking a progressive approach in securing from ICCAT permission for a comprehensive tagging programme with the full and beneficial involvement of recreational sea anglers. This is a win, win, win for science, coastal communities and blue fin tuna. The sooner the UK does the same and opens up its own tagging programme to recreational anglers, the sooner these wider benefits will accrue to the UK,”

Useful links:

Full details from the Irish Government

Bluefin Tuna UK blog

Angling Trust campaign page

Bluefin Tuna UK website

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