Published on 

Irish anglers to participate in data gathering for Blue fin tuna

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D., today announced that he has secured approval at EU and international level for the introduction of a science based catch, tag and release fishery for Bluefin tuna for Irish recreational anglers.  This scheme will compliment the work on satellite tagging of blue fin tuna that is being under taken by the Marine Institute. 

Minister Creed said that “As part of the negotiations on the new international management plan for bluefin tuna in the east Atlantic,  Ireland was able to secure agreement that will allow countries like Ireland, that do not have a commercial Bluefin tuna quota, to operate a catch-tag-release fishery for gathering scientific data.”  This new management plan was adopted at the 2018 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) Annual Meeting.  

Minister Creed continued “My Department is currently working with the Marine Institute and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority on a pilot project that will allow up to 15 angling vessels with trained tagging operators to target blue fin tuna in 2019.  This aim of the project is to build on work undertake to date and to increase our knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of BFT in the waters off the Irish coast.  It will also provide an ancillary benefit in that it will support angling tourism in peripheral coastal communities, including in particular Donegal.” 

Previously, under ICCAT rules, Ireland could not allow targeted angling for blue fin tuna as we do not have a blue fin tuna quota. The changes secured by Ireland will now allow targeting for tagging purposes only by recreational anglers. 

Minister Creed added “Our fishing industry has expressed concerns about the increasing numbers of Bluefin tuna in the Irish 200 miles zone and this programme will allow us to understand more about blue fin tuna - their habitat, migration patterns and concentration in waters around Ireland.”

The exact details of the pilot scheme will be developed over the coming period in consultation with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment which is responsible for angling.  

Notes for Editors

Bluefin tuna is the largest tuna, and one of the largest fish of all. It is a pelagic, fish-eating species, found from the surface to depths of up to 1,000 m, and in temperatures from 3o and 30o Celsius. 

BFT is distributed in the pelagic waters of the North Atlantic and adjacent seas from Brazil to Newfoundland in the west Atlantic and from the Canary Islands to North Norway in the east Atlantic.  

After spawning in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea in spring, many BFT migrate into the Atlantic Ocean for feeding, heading along the continental slope and into the open sea. The main routes in the east Atlantic are along the Iberian peninsula into the Bay of Biscay and further north along the west of Ireland and as far north as Norway. 

BFT are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).  In 2006 BFT stocks were at a very low level.  ICCAT adopted a rebuilding plan for BFT which introduced various conservation measures include TAC reductions, time/area closures, and minimum closures.  In 2008 the TAC was further reduced, stricter control and enforcement in the Mediterranean, particularly in relation to capture of juveniles for cage farming. 

BFT is fast growing and recruits to the fishery by age 1, with maximum age of at least 20 years. Maturation occurs at 4 years, corresponding to fork length of approximately 115 cm.  BFT attains a maximum size is 400 cm. 

Juveniles migrate north to SW Ireland in summer, to feed in surface waters. 

Results of international tagging programmes in recent years indicate that movement across the currently assumed east-west boundary in the Atlantic does occur. ICCAT now recognise the need to develop quantitative knowledge of BFT mixing rates and integrate this knowledge into the assessment and advisory process. 

In the early 2000’s, BFT became more visible in the waters around Ireland. Sightings subsequently abated as the stock declined in the Atlantic.  In 2014 they began to reappear in large numbers as the stock recovered. In 2018, there are many reports of large numbers of BFT in the waters around Ireland. There are no scientific population estimates, but much anecdotal information on increased sightings and interactions with commercial fisheries.   Similar reports of increased BFT numbers are coming from UK, Norwegian and Danish waters for 2016 to 2018. 

Ireland commenced a new BFT tagging programme in 2016 when 9 BFT were tagged.  This programme continued in 2017 with North American partners (Stanford University US and Acadia University NS, Canada) and a new collaborator in Queens University, Belfast. 9 fish tagged with PSAT tags and 3 with accelerometer tags.

This BFT tagging work, in conjunction with ICCAT, continued in 2018 when 24 fish were tagged with satellite tags and 4 with accelerometer tags.

The results from the BFT satellite tags from the Irish programme (2016 to 2018) are currently being analysed by MI and partners.  Initial indications show BFT tagged off Donegal in October could migrate into the mid Atlantic, Bay of Biscay and Mediterranean and return to the waters off Donegal Bay. 

Bluefin tuna is the largest tuna, and one of the largest fish of all. It is a pelagic, fish-eating species, found from the surface to depths of up to 1,000 m, and in temperatures from 3o and 30o Celsius.

Ireland does not have a quota for Blue fin tuna and accordingly may not have a commercial fishery for bluefin tuna.   There is a very small bycatch quota available to Ireland and other non quota holding Member States.