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Commercial Fishing



Bluefin tuna in the UK. Information on the current rules applicable to Bluefin tuna in UK waters.

Status of bluefin tuna

Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species which for several years appeared to be absent from UK waters. Scientific surveys and sightings by members of the public suggest an increased number of them in UK waters. The reasons for this increase are not clear but are likely due to shifts in distribution. Changes in environmental or prey conditions or increases in stock size could have caused these shifts.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is the international Regional Fisheries Management Organisation managing Atlantic bluefin tuna. The UK funds the Thunnus UK project, as part of the ICCAT Grand Bluefin Tuna Year Programme (GBYP) research activities. Thunnus provides an understanding of the ecology of Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in waters of the British Isles.

In 2015, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed their entry for Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna from “endangered” to “near threatened”. This reflects the improving state of the stock. The label of “near threatened” underlines a need for a continued cautious approach to its management.

In 2017, ICCAT received advice from its Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) that the stock was increasing and unlikely to be subject to overfishing. The SCRS acknowledges these assessments and stock projections include a degree of uncertainty. This uncertainty relates to some aspects of the bluefin tuna life history and the models used. The 2019 report on this information is available in this report.

What to do with caught bluefin tuna

2021 is the first year in which the UK holds its own bluefin tuna quota. Under this quota, allocations have been made to account for incidental mortality arising from the ‘catch-and-release tagging’ programme (CHART) and for unavoidable by-catch in commercial fisheries.

Catch and Release Tagging Programme (CHART)

CHART is a scientific ‘catch-and-release tagging’ programme for 2021. Skippers who have been selected for the CHART programme will secure a Marine Management Organisation (MMO) scientific licence. These selected skippers will be trained by the CHART programme in catching, tagging and data recording techniques so that they can contribute to bluefin tuna research. This is done while ensuring the protection of bluefin tuna welfare by releasing bluefin tuna unharmed once tagged. Participating vessels are operating within the English and Bristol Channels.

CHART vessels must offer any bluefin tuna that die during the capture process to the MMO, for scientific research. For more information see the Cefas (CHART) website.

Recreational sea anglers

Recreational sea anglers not involved in CHART are not authorised to target or land bluefin tuna. Any incidental catch must not be brought onto the vessel it must be released alive, unharmed to the greatest extent possible. Recreational sea anglers must not land bluefin tuna.

For guidance on how to safely return bluefin tuna to the sea, visit the Thunnus website.

Commercial vessels

No commercial UK vessels are authorised to target this stock. The bluefin tuna should be released alive and unharmed to the greatest extent possible, logbook vessels must record the discard.

For the protection and conservation of bluefin tuna there is a minimum conservation reference size (MCRS). For bluefin tuna caught in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean the MCRS is 30kg or 115cm (fork length).

If the bluefin tuna cannot be returned to the sea alive UK vessels must:

  • record all bluefin tuna by-catch
  • report and land all dead bluefin tuna above MCRS
  • discard all dead bluefin tuna below MCRS, vessels must record all discards

For English administered commercial vessels

For 2021, a new licence condition allows certain English vessels to sell commercially by-caught bluefin tuna which is above the MCRS.

The MMO will issue the licence condition variation on Thursday 5 August. The licence condition may change according to quota usage. You should seek advice and inform the MMO if landing before this date.

Selling bluefin tuna is only allowed under certain provisions. This is to prevent direct targeting. These provisions are:

  1. A limit of one by-caught bluefin tuna able to be sold per trip by vessels.
  2. Only vessels with gear types with a risk of unavoidable by-catch can sell this bluefin tuna. The permissible gear types under these requirements are:
  • demersal trawls
  • pelagic trawls
  • seines nets
  • ring nets
  • fixed nets

These measures ensure the continuation of a precautionary management of this stock.

English vessels must continue to report and land all dead bluefin tuna by-catch above the MCRS which cannot be offered for sale. The MMO may offer this bluefin tuna for scientific research, as part of the Thunnus UK project, the MMO will approve this once reported. Where this isn’t possible at the time of landing you will be required to destroy the bluefin tuna by-catch.

For Non-English administered UK commercial vessels

The licence condition allowing for the sale of one commercially by-caught bluefin tuna per trip is currently only applicable to certain English administered vessels, but this may change in future years.

Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh administered vessels must continue to report and land all dead bluefin tuna by-catch above the MCRS. Vessels are prohibited from selling this bluefin tuna. The MMO may offer this bluefin tuna for scientific research, as part of the Thunnus UK project, the MMO or UKFMC will approve this once reported. Where this isn’t possible at the time of landing you will be required to destroy the bluefin tuna by-catch.

How to land dead bluefin tuna

UK vessels landing by-caught bluefin tuna are able to land at any UK designated port. If you are unable to reach a designated port seek advice from the UK Fisheries Monitoring Centre (UKFMC).

When an English commercial vessel intends to sell by-caught bluefin tuna which is dead, they are to prepare, pack and store the tuna for sale as per usual. Traders who wish to buy English by-caught bluefin tuna will need to be an authorised registered trader. Traders need to request registration before the sale with either the MMO or UKFMC. A list of registered traders can be found here.

Alongside standard reporting requirements, all UK vessels must report all by-caught bluefin tuna which is dead to the MMO or the UKFMC 4 hours before landing.

  • When reporting between the hours of 08:00 – 20:00 GMT Monday – Friday report this by-catch to the MMO UK single liaison office (UKSLO) on 0330 041 6585 or ukiuuslo@marinemanagement.org.uk
  • When reporting between the hours of 20:00 – 08:00 GMT Monday – Friday and weekends report this by-catch to the UKFMC on 0131 244 2286 or UKFMC@gov.scot

When reporting ensure you have the following information ready:

  • total bluefin tuna weight
  • number caught
  • vessel details
  • license details
  • which designated port of landing
  • trader, if selling

MMO or UKFMC use this information to create an electronic bluefin tuna catch document (eBCD). Landing or selling bluefin tuna without a completed and validated catch document (eBCD) is prohibited. Once the eBCD is validated, vessels will receive confirmation via email or phone.

English and Welsh administered vessels under 10 metres will need to submit a catch record no later than completion of landing using the Catch Application.

Scottish administered vessels of 10-12 metres must record this by-catch in their paper logbook. Scottish administered vessels of under 10 metres must record it on their weekly FISH1 return.