Bluefin tuna largely disappeared from the waters around the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, but began returning in 2014. The UK saw its 2023 quota increased to 65 tons, and on August 1, 2023 opened a trial small-scale fishery with a 39 ton quota endorsed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Now the UK has authorized 10 licenses to be issued to fishermen who meet certain criteria. They must be licensed fishermen in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland; have a vessel under 15 meters (49 feet) in length; use rod and reel only, with lures only and no live bait or chumming; agree to be contacted as part of a formal evaluation of the trial.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), of the UK will allocate the 39-ton quota to successful applicants, while reserving the right to re-distribute quota as required during the year. Fishermen must land tuna only in ICCAT approved ports and the quota is subject to ICCAT registry.

According to Andy Read, editor of Fishing News, in the UK, the season is getting off to a slow start.

We have a screaming summer gale here, and no boats have left for the start of the season,” says Read. “They’re unlikely to until at least Friday from the looks of it. No-one really geared up either, this will be very much a learning curve for the industry, I think.”

The season ends on Nov 30, giving the fishermen four months to hook-up with a bluefin and hopefully catch the quota. An intriguing question remains, where are the tuna coming from?

U.S. fishermen have long argued that the tuna they conserve spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and swim across the North Atlantic to Europe, while ICCAT has contended that the bluefin in Europe come from Mediterranean spawning grounds and managed Atlantic tuna as two separate stocks.

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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