mackerel sturgeon norwegian sea

An intense hunt is on for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Norwegian Sea. Photo Øyvind Tangen / Institute of Marine Research

Right now there is an exciting and intense hunt in the Norwegian Sea where eight seiners and three longliners are trying to catch what some refer to as the  “sea Ferrari”  – Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Bluefin tuna  are one of the largest bony fishes found and it is the largest tuna species. But it is probably not easy to catch. The speed can reach 70 kilometers per hour and it can cross the Atlantic in 50 days, according to information from the  Institute of Marine Research .

This year, the Norwegian quota is as much as 311.95 tonnes.

Open to recreational fishermen

In addition to the professional fishermen, it is open for 24 selected teams with “mark and release”, and recreational fishermen can participate in this exciting fishing. Of the 24 teams, all countries can have a sturgeon for food, and 18 of the teams can participate in “mark and release fishing”. In this way, researchers can learn more about the way of life and migration pattern of this special fish, which a few years ago was a snowshoe of extinction, and rarely seen in Norwegian waters. It is not permitted to sell the fish as a sign in «mark release» and recreational fishing. 

Increasing stock

Intense fishing in the 1950s and into the 1970s led to a dramatic decline in the stock. In 2007, a total ban was introduced on the capture of bluefin tuna in Norwegian waters. Extensive work was started to save the stock and slowly but surely rebuild it. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICCAT , is launching several measures to save the population. 

Quotas for catches were introduced, spawning grounds were protected and measures were introduced to avoid catching young fish. In addition, there was a requirement to register all catches, and control was introduced to ensure that the annual total quota was not exceeded.

In 2014, fishing in Norway was opened on a small scale according to allocated quotas from ICCAT and in 2018 ICCAT could go from a reconstruction plan to a management plan. In the last couple of years, the quota has increased steadily. For Norwegian vessels, this is due both to the fact that the stock has increased so that the total quota is larger and that Norway has been allocated a larger part of the total quota.

Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean

According to the Institute of Marine Research, there are two main populations, with the western bluefin tuna spawning in the area by the Gulf of Mexico, while the eastern spawning spawned at three localities in the Mediterranean in May-June. It is mainly the austlege population that comes to Norwegian waters in the transition from summer to autumn, but samples taken from bluefin tuna, which among other things have gone in salmon cages, show that the western tuna has also visited us.

Important to ensure quality

Prices for bluefin tuna have traditionally been good on the international market, but buyers also set strict requirements for the quality of the fish.

“Those who participate in the fishing must present a plan for how they will handle and deliver the catch, so that the quality remains. A plan must also be presented for how the fish is to be sold,” says Maja Brix, senior adviser at the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries.

To participate in the fishing, you must register through the Directorate of Fisheries, which administers the fishing that takes place in Norwegian waters. In 2020, there was a lottery between the registered vessels, and this lottery formed the basis for a rolling list that will be used in the future. It is the parties in ICCAT that decide how large the quotas are from year to year.

“For us, it is important to have good routines and systems that show that we conduct sustainable fishing, and that satisfy the requirements set by ICCAT. In that way, this will be an exciting fishery for Norwegian fishermen in the future,” says Brix.


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