by Deborah Hadfield

Sportfishing for bluefin tuna is back. Skippers say landing the English CHART 2023, catch-and-release program, was a monster fight. Delays and lack of funding threatened its future. Defra dallying led to a last-minute announcement which is causing issues for some skippers. The good news is that, in Cornwall, 25 vessels are cleared to take big game anglers out after bluefin tuna.

Skippers are hoping for a successful Bluefin Tuna fishing season now the CHART programme for Engladn has been approved

The skipper of the boat True Blue, which sails from Falmouth, Steve Porter, says it was disappointing that the decision came so late. He says: “That’s had an effect on my business and the businesses of other CHART skippers.” 

He says although skippers hoped it would go ahead without the confirmation it wasn’t possible to market the trips to anglers. He says: “Most of us are finding that at this moment our bookings are down compared to this time last year.”

Wales and Northern Island had CHART programmes earlier in 2023

In contrast to England, Wales and Northern Ireland received permission for the CHART programme months before.

Tim Macpherson, of the UK Bluefin Tuna Association says: “Wales, and Northern Ireland have got their own small CHART programmes. It’s 5 boats in Wales. We’re not sure about Scotland yet.”

40 vessels will take part in the Bluefin Tuna CHART programme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

A total of 40 charter vessels are authorised to fish for Atlantic bluefin across the UK’s Western waters.

But DEFRA says due to time constraints and ‘funding pressure it’s not possible to run a training programme. This means the 2023 season is only open to skippers who participated in the 2021 or 2022 CHART programmes.

Tim says it will be the same 25 skippers as last year. He say: “That’s fine because they’ve already got all the framework in place, and they know how to handle these fish properly.” He says it’s good news for the skippers and the Cornish economy too, especially as the CHART programme operates mainly outside the peak tourism  season.

The bluefin tuna CHART programme will boost the economy in Cornwall

Steve says he’s delighted to be finally moving ahead with planning for the season.

He says:  “With the good news and the confirmation, we’re hopeful that now we can get on with the marketing and fill the days to have a fantastic bluefin tuna fishing season.”

DEFRA has approved a pilot programme for a commercial fishery in England which has a quota of 39 tonnes

Despite dragging its feet on the CHART programme, the government has approved a pilot programme for a commercial fishery.

Tim says it’s been allocated a quota of 39 tonnes, which is around 300 fish. He says: “We are slightly worried about the targeting of the right type of fish, and don’t want them to catch fish that haven’t spawned as that would be detrimental to the stock, but it’s unlikely to be a significant issue in the pilot program.”

He says they’re surprised that DEFRA were so eager to open the commercial fishery so quickly, but the association believes there is pressure from the commercial fishing sector in Cornwall.

Having fought their way through red tape and what, at times, felt like an institutional dislike of sport fishing, anglers are thrilled to be able to catch bluefin tuna in British waters.

Anglers are hoping eventually the success of the programme will persuade the government to licence a recreational fishery full time so more people can experience the thrill of landing bluefin tuna in British waters.

The UK Bluefin Tuna Association is hoping for a permanent recreational fishery in 2024

Tim says the association is hopeful the recreational fishery could be opened next year. He says: “There’s been nothing decided or promised yet. The UK Bluefin Tuna Association and the Angling Trust are working very hard with DEFRA and government ministers to make this happen.”

He says there needs to be legislation to licence recreational anglers in the UK to catch Bluefin tuna. He says this is causing a delay,  but everyone is trying to make it happen for 2024.

The UK Bluefin Tuna Association wants more anglers and skippers to have the chance to land the magnificent fish

Steve says: “I think anyone who’s been lucky enough to legally catch bluefin tuna under CHART will tell you how good it’s been. The few of us that have done it are extremely privileged.”

He says it’s important give the opportunity to other anglers and skippers. He says: “We need to move forward, with the recreational catch, tag, and release programme. It will open up this fantastic fishery to all.” He’s hopeful that if a recreational fishery is opened skippers will be able plan ahead and avoid the last-minute scramble that’s happened this year.

The 2023 Bluefin fishing season starts on August 14th and ends on December 10th.

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