Good progress on possible Catch, Tag and Release bluefin tuna programme in 2021

The Angling Trust and the Bluefin Tuna UK are fully behind the government-led project to assess the viability of a scientific catch, tag and release (CHART) Atlantic bluefin tuna programme in summer/autumn 2021.

In response to a proposal from Bluefin Tuna UK and the Angling Trust that highlighted the contribution a regulated catch, tag and release programme could make to our understanding of this magnificent fish through scientific research, as well as the potential socio-economic benefits it could bring to deprived coastal communities, Defra launched the first phase of a two-phase consultation into the viability of introducing a limited fishery later this year.

The first phase of this consultation concluded that subject to the availability of quota and funding, a small-scale CHART programme, run by Cefas, working collaboratively with trained charter boat skippers, could deliver valuable research while supporting the welfare and conservation of bluefin tuna.

Steve Murphy, Founder of Bluefin Tuna UK, said:

“The consultation process undertaken late last year was very comprehensive and drew upon a wide range of expertise from both the scientific community and the recreational sea angling sector, from the UK and overseas. A range of key questions and obstacles were addressed, and we can now move into the detailed planning stage to finalise a possible 2021 ‘UK CHART’ programme.

“CHART is foremost a scientific research project and as such has to operate under very strict operational and regulatory requirements set out by ICCAT and DEFRA. We believe such a programme can provide a valuable contribution to the scientific understanding of Atlantic bluefin, as well as providing insight into how any future recreational fishery could operate.”

Discussions during the course of the consultation included the impact on bluefin tuna in UK waters and beyond, potential mortality rates of any programme, the scientific value of such a programme, the legal and regulatory framework, and the processes and protocols required to ensure all the desired objectives could be met.

David Mitchell, the Angling Trust’s Head of Sea Angling, said:

“We’ve made excellent progress since September 2020 in making the case for a science-lead tagging programme to be established later this year. Phase 2 of the project will be crucial, and we will be keeping anglers informed as the process continues – hopefully with news that charter boats will be taking customers out to fish for tuna in autumn as part of this important research programme for bluefin tuna.”

Phase 2

DEFRA has now initiated the next phase of scoping work with stakeholders and by the end of March 2021, it should be clear whether a recreational scientific bluefin tuna research (CHART) programme can take place in summer/autumn 2021.  Phase 2 will include a widening of the consultation process to include other interested organisations.

Using New Quota

As part of the UK/EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement, the UK has obtained a small (50 tonne) allocation of the EU’s quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna. A CHART programme would require access to some of this quota to account for any incidental tuna mortalities, predicted to be less than 5 per cent.

No decisions have been taken by the UK Government on how to use the UK’s new national quota, but a public consultation will take place on the potential options available.

One change resulting from this is that DEFRA competency over CHART style programmes now extends to the devolved administrations and Crown Dependencies. The existing CHART stakeholder group are in contact with angling representatives in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to help facilitate their involvement in this process.

Beyond 2021

While the current focus is on quota for 2021, Defra will also be looking at a longer-term policy and strategy for bluefin tuna, in consultation with stakeholders. If a CHART programme does go ahead, the outputs from this programme will be used to inform future policy.

Angling organisations involved in the CHART consultation process have reiterated their commitment to pursuing this important programme, whilst reconfirming their ultimate desire to establish a sustainable, world-leading recreational live release fishery in the UK.

A Bluefin tuna being tagged and released. Credit: Markus Lundgren

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