The Bluefin tuna catch-tag-release' programme continues in 2021 but there's no fishery on horizon for the Irish fishing fleet

The Bluefin tuna catch-tag-release’ programme continues in 2021 but there’s no fishery on horizon for the Irish fishing fleet

As the third year of the Bluefin Tuna Scientific ‘catch-tag-release’ comes around again, the prospect of Irish fishing vessels gaining a quota for the fish seems as far off as ever.

North-eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna has become an abundance along the western seaboard with fishing vessels reporting large shoals on the fish. Migrating through the North Atlantic the tuna comes into Irish waters to feed. The magnificent fish can reach up to 680kgs and would be a valuable fishery for struggling fishing communities.

Under the Bluefin Tuna Scientific ‘catch-tag-release’ fishery in 2020, 685 bluefin tuna were caught, tagged, measured and released through the Tuna CHART programme in 2020. All bluefin tuna were caught by anglers in Irish coastal waters and then tagged by skippers. The fish is always kept in the water to ensure correct handling and tagging; the largest tuna tagged in Ireland in 2020 was 2.75 metres long, estimated to weigh over 800 lbs (approximately 360 kgs).

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The data collected on board the authorised vessels is used for scientific assessment to improve knowledge of population structures, fish size and how bluefin tuna is distributed in Irish waters and throughout the North Atlantic. Irish fishers complain that this knowledge is only being used to benefit other countries which has quota for bluefin tuna and has no real benefit to the Irish fleet.

The programme has been a successful collaboration between Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Marine Institute in partnership with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department for Environment, Climate and Communications.

Speaking at the launch of the 2021 Bluefin Tuna Scientific ‘catch-tag-release’ fishery, Minister Charlie McConalogue welcomed the continuation of the programme for 2021: “As a Donegal man, I have a keen interest in the Bluefin tuna data collection programme. I am delighted at the ongoing success of this programme as it allows our scientific partners in the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland to collect valuable data and improve our understanding of the migratory patterns of Bluefin tuna in Irish waters in a tightly controlled environment. This programme also provides our Coastal Communities with access to a highly desired angling market that will bring a new demographic of tourists to our spectacular Wild Atlantic Way. I am particularly pleased with the large increase in data collected in 2020, despite the restriction in place as a result of Covid and am anticipating an even more successful season this year thanks to our experienced skippers who have received authorisations for 2021.”

Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications said: “The 22 angling vessels authorised by my Department will contribute substantially to essential Bluefin tuna data collection as they migrate along the Irish coastline.  The recreational fisheries sector is crucial in the delivery of this data collection programme and we look forward to continue working with all the State agencies involved. I want to acknowledge the key role of the authorised charter skippers and their crews who are bringing their unique expertise to bear on providing valuable data for scientific purposes, and the ‘citizen scientist’ anglers who will catch the fish. The fact that 685 fish were tagged last year with no mortalities recorded is a great achievement by the skippers.”

Under the tagging programme, twenty-two angling charter vessels have been authorised to take anglers fishing for bluefin tuna on a catch, tag and release basis, during the open season. All skippers have been fully trained while vessels have been fitted with a customised GPS device. Data is collected by skippers digitally by means of a specifically designed app.

The authorised vessels operate out of ports in Donegal (Killybegs and Bundoran), Sligo (Rosses Point and Mullaghmore), Galway (Cleggan and Rossaveal), Clare (Carrigaholt and Kilrush), Cork (Courtmacsherry, Kinsale, Ballycotton, Union Hall, Great Island in Cobh, Baltimore and Youghal) and Waterford (Dungarvan).

Anglers looking to fish for bluefin tuna in Irish waters may only do so from an authorised charter vessel from now until 12 November 2021. The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and Inland Fisheries Ireland are undertaking inspections and patrols around the coast to ensure that no unauthorised vessels are targeting or catching bluefin tuna.

Both organisations have also confirmed that any person engaging in fishing for bluefin tuna on a vessel which is not appropriately authorised, would be in breach of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction (Bluefin Tuna) Regulations 2019 (S.I. No. 265 of 2019) and would face prosecution.

Like last season, skippers will have to adhere to any local or national Covid-19 public health guidelines that may be put in place.

A full list of authorised skippers and vessels for the Tuna CHART programme in 2021 can be found at www.fisheriesireland.ie/bluefin.

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