The case for a UK Recreational Live Release
Since 2015, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna have appeared late each summer in substantial numbers all across the UK’s Western waters, from Dorset to the Shetlands.
A significant change in the spatial distribution of the species is underway with fish now regularly appearing in UK, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Irish waters each autumn.
It seems likely a combination of long term (20-40 year) climatic cycles, climate change, and the substantial recovery of the species since 2010 are factors in this change.
The most recent stock assessment from ICCATi, SCRS Advice 2020ii (9/2020) stated:
‘….important changes in the spatial dynamics of bluefin tuna may also have resulted from interactions between biological factors, environmental variations and a reduction in fishing effort.’
‘the available data do clearly indicate that the biomass…… has increased since the late 2000s, is high at present, and that there are no concerns that overfishing may be occurring under the current TAC…..’
‘The combination of size limits and the reduction of catch has certainly contributed to a rapid increase in the abundance of the stock’.
With the UK now outside of the EU, we have joined ICCAT as a sovereign member, and are able to chart our own path re the management of Atlantic Bluefin in UK waters.
Dozens of other ICCAT members operate recreational Bluefin fisheries, including our non quota holding neighbours such as Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, who have for several years operated large scale angler led CatcH And Release Tagging (‘CHART’) programs. But not the UK.
We believe there are strong arguments to establish a large-scale, Recreational Live Release fishery in UK waters from 2021. Such a fishery would be tightly regulated and licensed as per ICCAT requirements.
It would allow both valuable scientific research through associated data recording and tagging, and bring great socio-economic benefits to UK Coastal Communities.
By engaging anglers and local communities in the management of this species it will help secure the future of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in UK waters.
Worldwide, recreational fisheries for Atlantic Bluefin are the source of much of the data and scientific study that informs crucial management decisions.
The Irish and Scandinavian ‘CHART’ programs have tagged and released over a thousand Bluefin in the last two years, providing valuable data to fisheries managers. A combination of hi tech ‘Satellite tags’ and large scale ‘spaghetti tagging’ have been favoured and supported by ICCAT and conservation bodies such as the WWF.
The UK has limited itself to a Satellite Tag program applying c55 tags at a cost of £1,000,000, providing no socio economic benefits to coastal communities.
A larger scale recreational fishery would be able to supplement the information they have obtained with much additional data via a parallel research program.
Recreational Bluefin Tuna fisheries have been shown to generate significant economic benefits for the coastal communities hosting the fishing fleets.
Live release fisheries in particular have been shown to be the optimal use of Bluefin resource, generating multiples of revenue per tonne that of commercial harvesting.
The ‘Giant’ Atlantic Bluefin Tuna seasonally inhabiting UK waters present a particularly attractive angling challenge. Anglers will travel great distances (globally) and spend significant sums to catch, photograph and release ‘the catch of a lifetime’.
Here are two examples that we can highlight to illustrate the potential economic benefits of such recreational fisheries .
A substantial Bluefin Tuna recreational live-release fishery was established in the waters off Nova Scotia from 2009. It was allocated a portion of Canada’s Quota for Bluefin as ‘mortality quota’ for an exclusively Live Release recreational fishery.
An independent study of this fishery in 2012 ‘Reeling in Revenue’iii concluded:
‘live release bluefin have the potential to generate up to six times more revenue on a per tonne basis than a commercially caught bluefin’.
The study estimated that recreational charter revenues generated Can$100,000/tonne versus the dockside value from commercial fishermen of Can$17,000/tonne.
This was before additional revenue generation related to the fishery was assessed, i.e. visiting angler expenditure on hotels, restaurants, fuel, bait, tackle etc.
In 2014 in a CBC news interview Bluefin charter boat captain Robert Boyd stated:
‘With the charter industry, right now we’re employed for six to seven weeks every fall, instead of just one or two days (harvesting their commercial quota).
The economic spin offs to that are just as valuable to the surrounding community as much as they are to us…It’s different from commercial fishing. It’s more of a tourism business than a fishing business…’
Live release fisheries do this via leveraging quota that must be set against possible mortalities, (that are fraction of, by definition, a 100% rate commercial fishery).
Multiple studies (Stokesbury et 2011 for example iv) show that this can be kept to around 3-5%. Canada incorporates a 3.6% mortality assumption in its fishery.
Applying a 5% mortality rate leverages quota into 20 ‘catch and release events’ for every one estimated post release mortality. Assuming one ‘hookup’ per day, that is 20 Charter Vessel bookings generating circa £15,000 even before the ‘tourism dividend’ from visiting anglers is factored in. In contrast, that one Bluefin dead on the dockside commercially is worth around £2-3,000v. The substantial revenue benefit is very clear.
Another illustration of the value of recreational Bluefin fisheries comes from the US, the town of Hatteras, North Carolina.
A winter Bluefin fishery was discovered in 1994 as changes in the Gulf Stream brought the Tuna closer inshore. (Comparable to the 2016 event in UK waters?)
The US Fisheries authorities moved to support this fishery via transferring quota and licensing opportunities to Hatteras. Anglers flocked to this new fishery and to this day Hatteras’ winter Bluefin Tuna fishery is a mecca for anglers from all over the world.
Just three years later in 1997 a comprehensive study by the University of Texasvi concluded that this fishery was generating in the order of $5million per year for the community of Hatteras. The report detailed how widespread these benefits were. Numerous businesses and hundreds of employees in the hospitality and tourism sector were direct beneficiaries of this new fishery.
Securing their future.
Engaging local communities in such science has been shown to raise awareness and support for conservation minded policies towards valuable yet vulnerable species. ‘Community science’ bears real dividends in shifting attitudes.
There is evidence worldwide of the economic benefits recreational angling can bring to coastal communities. The leveraging of small amounts of quota in live release fisheries for species such as Bluefin is a very effective use of valuable and often limited quota.
When they also deliver real, measurable socio-economic benefits to communities the support for sustainable long-term management strategies is boosted significantly.
In delivering both valuable scientific and significant socio-economic benefits for stakeholders such fisheries help ensure the future health of these species.
The UK has an opportunity to join the dozens of ICCAT members operating recreational fisheries of a stock that has recovered significantly in the last ten years. Significantly, in establishing an exclusively Live release, well regulated fishery with an important parallel research program, it can set a new world leading benchmark in the optimal, sustainable management of an iconic, valuable species.
i The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, the Global management body for the species.
v Based upon data from Pew Charitable Trust, Norwegian Pisheries authority, and Canada’s Dept of Fisheries and Oceans vi https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/1548-8675(2002)022%3C0165:TEIOTR%3E2.0.CO;2