The rapid swimming migratory Atlantic bluefin tuna may be targeted by a limited number of Irish recreational craft under a pilot scientific research programme run by several State agencies writes Lorna Siggins.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) and the Marine Institute are seeking expressions of interest from up to 15 sea angling vessels, which would be authorised to run a catch, tag and release programme to collect data on the movements of the fish for the first time.
Atlantic bluefin tuna is the largest tuna and takes in the Irish coastline on its migratory track between the Mediterranean and the central Atlantic. It can reach a weight of over 600 kg, and over three metres in length, and can live for over 30 years.
Under International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) rules, Ireland could not allow targeted angling of bluefin tuna for data collection.
Last year, a European Commission audit had criticised the State for a “complete lack of control” over the illegal capture of bluefin tuna by sea anglers off the west coast.
It cited IFI evidence that a “targeted” recreational fishery for bluefin tuna had developed along the west coast of Ireland, with “numerous chartering companies advertising trips for tourists over the internet”.
The audit said there was evidence that some catch was being kept, landed and offered for sale in breach of regulations, given that Ireland had no quota.
However, IFI says that changes secured by Ireland at an ICCAT annual meeting last year will allow limited targeting of the species by recreational anglers, but for scientific purposes only.
The new pilot programme is being developed in partnership with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
Minister for Marine Michael Creed said he warmly welcomed the new pilot programme which would “build on and complement the extensive scientific work undertaken in recent years by the Marine Institute” and “increase our knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of bluefin tuna in the waters off the Irish coast”.
Applicants for the new data collection pilot programme will be assessed on the basis of previous experience in undertaking “collaborative research and scientific work”, and must have a minimum of five years’ experience of sea angling in Irish waters.
Applicants must also have experience in targeting large pelagic fish, and be equipped for same, and be willing to operate under specific authorisation controls, IFI says.
Authorisations will be valid from mid-August until mid-October of this year, IFI says, and strict fish safety and handling procedures will have to be followed at all times.
Training will be required in fish handling, welfare, tagging and data recording, and all vessels will be monitored by fisheries observers, IFI says.
Both IFI and the SFPA will “undertake inspections and patrols around the coast”, it says, and “any unauthorised skippers found targeting bluefin tuna will be prosecuted”.
It says anglers may participate in the fishery by booking places on an authorised vessel, and full details of the programme are on.