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UK Government gives bluefin tuna fishery the go-ahead


The proposal for a bluefin tuna fishery, the subject of a special report on this website, has been given the go-ahead by the UK Government.

A catch-and-release tagging (CHART) programme for Atlantic bluefin tuna will come into operation off the English south and west coasts in Autumn of this year. The news is a landmark victory for the Bluefin Tuna UK, which has been campaigning for the fishery for the last three years. The campaign has met with stiff resistance from conservation bodies who have branded the idea irresponsible. 

But campaign head Steven Murphy has successfully argued that official stock assessments show that bluefin tuna are no longer in the ‘threatened species’ category and the latest update may even place them in the ‘least concern’ grouping.

“This is a great result,” said Murphy. “After years of painstaking work, we have opened up an opportunity, not only to support work to increase our understanding of bluefin, but to show the enormous economic opportunity a recreational bluefin fishery can bring to coastal communities.  

“The process that has brought us to this point has been exhaustive and lengthy. Two three-month consultation periods comprised dozens of calls and tens of thousands of words of detailed submissions. There have also been contributions from experts including scientists with decades of experience with the species, and several involved in existing CHART programmes in Ireland and Scandinavia.”

The new scheme is designed to provide scientific knowledge that will enable the Government to make better decisions about future strategy and policies for the species. Options include a licensed recreational live release fishery. Similar schemes are already being run in Ireland, Denmark and Sweden. 

CHART data will also inform the species’ global management body, ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), in its global management and policy decisions. 

“Our campaign and the acceptance of CHART by Defra and Cefas has resulted in a high-quality programme design that will deliver great scientific insight, the beginnings of valuable socio-economic contributions and an opportunity for anglers to legally catch bluefin in a safe, professional environment with trained and authorised skippers and crew,” added Murphy.

The campaign has received the support of organisations including the Angling Trades Association and the Angling Trust, charter skippers and fishing clubs, as well as members of Parliament and individual anglers

“CHART marks a vital step forward in understanding the where, when and why of the seasonal presence of Atlantic bluefin in our waters that has been most prevalent since around 2015,” said Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the AnglingTrust. 

“An English CHART programme, especially if expanded to cover the waters of the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will generate significant data on the temporal and spatial distribution of Atlantic bluefin across the waters of the UK. Using the platform for wider research projects could also begin to help answer the question, why are they here?” 

The Trust described the CHART consultations as one of the most exhaustive and detailed collaborative processes yet undertaken between recreational sea angling representatives and multiple government agencies. It has the potential to be a world leading sea angling-led research project, it added. 

The English Tuna CHART programme will allow up to 15 charter boat skippers – selected through a competitive application process – to take recreational anglers to catch, tag and release bluefin tuna.

For 2021, the CHART programme will run from August 16th to November 14th inclusive. Skippers selected to participate will be issued with scientific licences by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). Licences will only be valid for the duration of the programme. 

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