So for decades, other than isolated sightings, Bluefin Tuna had effectively disappeared from UK waters. Since around 2010 though they have re-appeared in numbers at various locations around the UK coastline. Off Cornwall and Devon, out from South West Wales, and in Scotland’s Western Isles an estimated 50 or more fish of up to 700lbs have been encountered in the last couple of years, hooked, fought and released by anglers, often whilst out seeking various shark species.
There is still uncertainty about exactly what is driving the re-appearance of these Bluefin around our coastlines. The overall recovery in stock levels, increased food competition, and changes in currents, water temperatures, prey patterns, etc may all be playing a part.
One thing to note is that even the smaller fish off Cornwall encountered in 2016 and 2017 were born BEFORE the recovery in numbers post-2010. In 2018, evidence to-date would suggest and even wider range of ‘year classes’ and sizes of fish are present. As the larger numbers of post-2010 fish mature and are able to travel more widely, could this lead to greater numbers of fish in British waters?
The re-appearance of these fish may yet present a fantastic opportunity for the UK to develop a sustainable, valuable recreational fishery, attracting anglers from across the globe to pursue this iconic gamefish.
However, the UK currently has no share of the EU’s substantial quota from ICCAT for Atlantic Bluefin. And, under ICCAT rules, the UK authorities are unable to authorise any recreational (or commercial) fishing for Bluefin without a quota. The UK Fisheries Authorities – DEFRA and the MMO – have repeatedly stated that it is illegal for UK anglers to target Bluefin and that any captured accidentally, whilst fishing for other species, must be released unharmed in the water. (Their explicit advice, that of the MMO, may be viewed on this link.)
Obtaining an element of the EU’s overall quota defined within its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) would have proved impossible. However a potential benefit of Brexit, through joining ICCAT as a sovereign member rather than under the EU’s ‘umbrella’, we would suggest make obtaining a quota somewhat easier.
In the short term, given complex international inter-actions, it is likely that this would be a proportion of the existing 50 tonne ‘artisan’ allowance built into ICCAT’s management quotas. And it is our contention that if this was, initially at least, allocated exclusively to a ‘Catch and Release’ Recreational fishery – existing research suggests a mortality rate of less than 5% for such managed fisheries – it would enable us in the UK to develop a fishery that was sustainable and, with appropriate tagging, scientifically valuable. Additionally it would provide, as demonstrated in areas like Canada’s Maritime provinces, significant socio-economic benefits to local communities.
There’s a strap line extensively and effectively used by our ‘cousins across the Pond’ – a fish from a vulnerable species (here read Bluefin) is too valuable to catch only once.