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Historic moment for angling as UK Bluefin Tuna fishery approved

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After more than six years of campaigning, legislation enabling the opening of a recreational catch-and-release Bluefin Tuna fishery in UK waters took effect today (June 7).

The landmark achievement, which follows the determined efforts of the Angling Trust and UK Bluefin Tuna Association (UKBFTA), under the guidance of the multi-national Atlantic Bluefin Tuna organisation, ICCAT, paves the way for a licenced recreational fishery to start on August 2, with the season running until the end of the year.

Jamie Cook, CEO of the Angling Trust said: “This is a huge victory for the recreational angling sector and testament to the dedication of the Angling Trust team, Steve Murphy and the CHART skippers in showing the Government the value of a world class catch and release big game fishery in the UK.

“These fish are worth so much more alive and swimming in our waters, the sustainability of the recreational fishery brings benefits to both the environment and the coastal economies, and we are delighted that after years of hard work the future of the fishery and of these wonderful fish has been secured.”

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, added: “After years of campaigning and detailed discussions with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), we are delighted this fishery will open to anglers, giving them the opportunity to experience the fish of a lifetime.

“The knowledge and experience gained from the three-year CHART programme has directly influenced the design of this fishery. We believe it will soon become a premier, world-class Bluefin Tuna fishery, with the highest welfare standards at its heart.

“While we are disappointed that mandatory training for skippers and boat owners was not secured, we are committed to making this fishery a success. We have developed a comprehensive training programme and code of conduct and encourage all successful permit holders without CHART – the ‘CatcH And Release Tagging programme’ for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna – programme experience to complete this training before taking to the water.

“We, along with the UK Bluefin Tuna Association and the Professional Boatman’s Association, will monitor this fishery closely in its first year and will continue to collaborate with Defra and the MMO to enhance its management and the welfare of the tuna in future years.”

Steve Murphy, CEO the UKBFTA said: “Today’s news, allowing the establishment of a potentially world class, sustainable recreational Bluefin fishery is the culmination of many years of work by a number of people. It would not have been possible without the commitment, professionalism and patience of the charter skippers, their crews and paying customers who via CHART, built the foundations for this fishery.

“August 2nd marks the start of the beginning only for this fishery which we are optimistic can evolve in coming years and establish itself as a mecca for the catch and release of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.”

The Angling Trust and UKBFTA campaigned for, won and co-designed an extensive pilot research programme to establish the sustainability of this new recreational fishery – CHART The ‘CatcH And Release Tagging programme’ for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Between 2021 and 2023 up to 24 charter boats each year took part in the scientific programme, tagging over 3000 tuna. Charter skippers were trained in catching, tagging and data recording techniques so that they could contribute to BFT research, while also protecting BFT welfare. Once trained, skippers secured a scientific licence for the duration of the programme and all activities were closely monitored by Cefas to ensure that risks to BFT welfare were minimised.

The new fishery is exclusively for recreational purposes (there is also a separate pilot commercial bluefin tuna fishery in operation). It will strictly adhere to a rod and line, catch-and-release approach, and there will be no boarding of the fish once brought alongside, ensuring the utmost care and welfare for the bluefin tuna. Specific gear recommendations form part of a ‘Code of Conduct’ to further protect these magnificent creatures.

The Government is facilitating the issuance of up to 100 permits across the charter and private boat sector. Approximately 85 of these are expected to be available for English boats, with distribution managed by the devolved governments. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will oversee the allocation and management of these permits, with applications opening of June 10 and closing on June 30.

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