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Anglers attracted to Ireland to experience ‘bucket list’ fishing

May 13th, 2024 7:00 PM

By Martin Claffey

Atlantic bluefin tuna can grow to eight metres. Left, a bluefin tuna being caught off the Irish coast in 2023.

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SEA anglers are travelling from around the world to catch bluefin tuna off the West Cork coast as part of a tag-and-release data collection programme.

Recreational angling for Atlantic bluefin tuna – the world’s largest tuna species – is prohibited in Ireland and unauthorised vessels are not permitted to target or catch bluefin tuna.

However, a collaborative scientific survey takes place annually to collect information on their sizes, and where and when they occur in Irish waters, allowing licensed charter skippers access to the fish.

‘Over the past five years 1,801 tuna have been caught and released off the Irish coast as part of this programme, and many of these are off the West Cork coast,’ Ciara Wögerbauer, a technician in the research department of Inland Fisheries Ireland told The Southern Star.

Atlantic bluefin tuna average two metres in length but can grow to four metres and can weigh as much as 600kg – about the same as a Friesian cow.

 

They can live up to 32 years and are powerful predatory fish, prized by sea anglers for their fierce fight when caught.

They are highly migratory and stop to feed off the Irish coast on their journey from the Mediterranean towards the waters in the North Atlantic.

Under the Tuna ‘Chart’ (catch and release tagging) programme, authorised charter vessel skippers can catch, tag, and release bluefin during the open season in, with the help of anglers on board.

‘We have had skippers from Baltimore, from Courtmacsherry, and other parts of West Cork on the programme,’ said Ms Wögerbauer.

‘Bluefin tuna are an amazing fish and they are on the bucket list for many anglers. Anglers have come from Europe, Asia, the US to fish here for tuna.’

In 2023, seven of the 19 licences handed out nationwide were in Cork. Applications for this year closed on Wednesday, May 8th for skippers to participate in this year’s programme, with 25 licences available.

Applications are now being reviewed and a decision on licensing for 2024 will be quickly made, with chosen skippers having to undergo training on their obligations before the season opens on July 1st.

Training includes advice on fishing equipment, use of computer tablets for recording data, to fish welfare knowledge, like knowing how long a fish should be allowed to fight for so that it can be safely released after catch.

The charter skippers need specialised fishing equipment to catch these ocean giants.

Last year 381 bluefin tuna were caught off the Irish coast on the programme, with a large proportion of these off the West Cork coast.

In the five years of the programme, the biggest seasonal catch recorded was 600 in 2020, which appeared to be a bumper year for bluefin tuna off the south-west.

‘That year you could see the fish breaking in the water from the cliffs off the West Cork coast when they were feeding,’ said Ms Wögerbauer.

Bluefin are caught in area that extends from approximately 1km from the shore out to a maximum of about 20 km.

Warmer temperatures off the Irish coast – which is likely to be linked to climate change, among other factors – are likely to be attracting more bluefin tuna into our waters, perhaps following the smaller fish species they feed on. But it’s a delicate balance.

The Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has said that Ireland will be seeking a bluefin tuna quota for commercial fishing in the future.

The Tuna Chart programme is part of a wider International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna tagging programme, and the data contributes to Atlantic bluefin tuna stock status assessments.

As things stand, the Tuna Chart programme remains the only legal way to catch tuna in Ireland.

IFI had one prosecution in 2023 in relation to illegal angling for bluefin tuna. The angler was detected off the Kerry coast in August 2022 and was fined €400, with fishing gear, valued at €5,000 forfeited.

The Tuna Chart programme is a collaborative data collection programme between Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Marine Institute in partnership with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Of the 1,801 fish which have been caught and released off the Irish coast in the programme, none were recatches, although two of the 1,801 were caught elsewhere, one off Donegal and one off the south west.

A bluefin tuna tagged and released in Donegal Bay in October 2020 was recaught in September 2023 off the north-east coast of Spain, while a bluefin tuna caught off the Kerry coast on August 23rd was recaptured just 22 days later in September 14th 2023 off the west French coast.

The largest tuna tagged to date in the programme was 2.75m long, and weighed 372kg.

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