Over the last three years, huge Atlantic bluefin tuna have appeared late each summer in UK waters. A global stock recovery program has seen numbers recover sharply from danger levels ten years ago. From Cornwall and Wales to the Outer Hebrides, these unique fish are now present in unprecedented numbers. Dozens of fish up to 700lb have been hooked accidentally by anglers and safely released. Until the 1950s the UK had a thriving and highly valuable recreational Bluefin Tuna fishery operating mainly out of Scarborough under the auspices of the Tunny Club. Commercial overfishing of both herring and tuna saw stocks collapse and British big game anglers resorted to spending £1000s pursuing these magnificent fish overseas. However, with the recent stock revival there now exists a real opportunity to establish a world-class, sustainable, valuable live-release recreational fishery in our waters. In conjunction with a parallel scientific research program, this would not only contribute significantly to our knowledge of these tremendous fish but would guard against moves to reinstate unsustainable commercial harvesting and the inevitable illegal fishing that would occur if no one was looking out for the stocks.
Includes detailed briefings on the value of a catch & return recreational fishery
2. Marine and citizen scientists take to the seas to help secure a future for Atlantic bluefin tuna in UK waters
A bluefin tuna tagging programme has been launched by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the University of Exeter to find out more about the migration patterns of these enigmatic predators.
2018 represents the first year when Cefas and the University of Exeter have run a sightings programme, asking members of the public to send in their records of Atlantic bluefin tuna. 2017 was a remarkable year for Atlantic bluefin tuna sightings and 2018 has been even more impressive.
Hannah and Duncan Jones of Marine Discovery Penzance, a local wildlife tour operator, said:
“We’ve already seen bluefin tuna on 45 occasions this year and our season isn’t over yet. Most of those instances have been large shoals with a mix in the size of fish, but recently most fish seen at the surface have been large. We have certainly seen more this year than ever, which has been the case every year now since 2015!”
This year, records have been sent in from the Scilly Isles, Scotland, Wales, England and even the Channel Islands and regularly detailing sightings of shoals of Atlantic bluefin tuna, hundreds of fish strong. During the beginning of the electronic tagging programme, observers have witnessed over 100 separate Atlantic bluefin tuna feeding events. Whilst seeing these predators back in waters of the British Isles is incredibly exciting, it’s clearer now more than ever how little is known about the local ecology of these animals.
Cefas and the University of Exeter are conducting a two-year scientific study, supported by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, to deploy state of the art animal tracking devices to find out where Atlantic bluefin tuna in UK waters go. Scientists will work with stakeholders including commercial fishers, recreational anglers, wildlife watchers, and NGOs, to share knowledge, and to deploy around 40 state-of-the-art satellite tracking devices. Tagging started in October, and the programme has been designed with the input and help of fishers.
The work will help scientists to understand:
- where and when Atlantic bluefin tuna are found in British waters;
- long-distance migrations, and where Atlantic bluefin tuna go when they are not in UK coastal waters;
- where Atlantic bluefin tuna found in UK waters go to breed; and
- interactions between Atlantic bluefin tuna and both commercial and recreational fisheries.