A call for a wider ranging UK Bluefin Tuna tagging program

Tagging bluefin

The Thunnus UK bluefin tagging program is now under way in Cornish waters, and we welcome this development. However, the recent experience of several other countries suggests that a wider participation of charter skippers and recreational anglers could ensure a more effective program outcome.

Many of you will be aware that Defra, in collaboration with Cefas and Exeter University, have recently begun a research program in relation to the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ABFT) that have appeared in Cornish waters over the last three years. That program, “Thunnus UK”, incorporates a satellite tagging (PSAT) element, targeting the application of up to 40 PSAT’s over the next two years, to ABFT captured in Cornish waters. In 2018, that program will have 2 vessels operating at any one time, for a total of 25 days.

The structure of this current Defra program has limited the number of charter skippers who can contribute at any one time, and also currently excludes recreational Anglers from participating in this important program. The tagging vessels are not permitted to utilise unlicensed, recreational anglers as “fishing crew” whilst undertaking tagging operations.

Over 10 days of fishing, NINETY ONE Bluefin were tagged with a variety of tags, including a number of PSATs.

Norway, Sweden and Denmark, (both “non-quota” countries, unable to authorise recreational fisheries, just like the UK), have taken a different approach to their own Bluefin tagging programs undertaken in the last 14 months.

Those programs incorporated a much wider participation of their respective recreational angling sector. Vetted, authorised and trained participants have worked at sea with vessels manned by marine scientists from the leading universities running the programs.

In the most recent program, undertaken by the Danes, up to THIRTY vessels at any one time supported the tagging teams. Over 10 days of fishing, NINETY ONE Bluefin were tagged with a variety of tags, including a number of PSATs.

We believe that going forward, such programs operated in the UK should incorporate elements of such an approach. A variation on the “Scandinavian model”, using a bigger but still limited number of vetted, authorised and trained charter skippers, chartering vessels to experienced anglers, operating the “capture element” of the program would bring a number of advantages.

1) Experience. A wider pool of potential participants would bring a greater sum of experience with large pelagic fish, including challenging gamefish such as bluefin and various billfish. Both charter captains, and experienced big game fishermen would enhance the prospects of successfully hooking bluefin, and bringing them to the boat in good condition.

2) Scale. Even a relatively small pool of vessels, perhaps even only 10-15 operating at any one time, would significantly increase the prospects of hookups, and the number of fish tagged.

3) Economics. Currently, the UK program is funded by Defra and the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund (EMFF), i.e. the taxpayers of the UK and EU. The charter fees paid by the program benefit only a very small number of skippers participating. The alternative path suggested would transfer a large part of the cost from Taxpayers to the private sector. The additional revenue from charter fees, hotel bookings, restaurants, fuel sales etc. would be substantial and would accrue to a wider sector of those communities where these programs operate from.

Money saved from such an approach could even be utilised to expand the scale of the program, either in the number of PSAT’s, or increasing the number of locations, perhaps including Welsh and Scottish waters where bluefin are also known to be present.

Bluefin Tuna UK”, and the Sportfishing Club of the British Isles (SCBI) have secured the support of a number of experienced charter skippers to press Defra to consider such a change in strategy. I am pleased to say that both the Angling Trust and the European Anglers Alliance have added their voices to this call.

To that end, we have this week written to Defra and Cefas expressing our view that they should seriously consider a change in strategy, to embrace the experience and goodwill of the Recreational Angling sector to ensure the best possible outcome for UK bluefin tagging operations. Watch this space!

Steve Murphy

 

Steve Murphy | Conservation Officer for the SCBI.

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