Tuna is popular and richly prized food fish. The word 'tuna' is derived from an ancient root meaning 'to rush or to dart' and refers to the fact that these saltwater fish are high-speed swimmers, powerful hunters and apex-predators.
Depending on which authority is consulted, there are up to fifteen different species of tuna found worldwide and the largest of these is the species found in Irish waters in late summer and autumn: the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Mature adults grow to an average length of 2-2.5m (6.6-8.2 feet) and live for some 15-30, exceptionally up to 50, years.
This huge, long-lived and richly prized fish was in the past, and still is, a great source of human food. Failure in the past to reach agreement on the commercial exploitation of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna led to severe overfishing with stocks in the western Atlantic falling by 82%. The conservation status of the big fish is presently rated 'Endangered'.
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are also highly prized sport fish by anglers. To date, fishing for tuna is banned in Irish waters but changes secured by Ireland at the 2018 annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will now allow limited targeting of the species by recreational sea anglers for the purpose of collecting scientific data only.
The Marine Institute carried out extensive scientific work in recent years to gain an understanding of the behaviour and abundance of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the waters off the Irish coast. The new programme aims to build on what has been found out to date. It will see 15 authorised angling vessels catch, tag and release Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. The new programme is a pilot one developed by the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland in partnership with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
Expressions of interest are now invited. Applicants to the new data collection pilot programme will be assessed on strict criteria. Successful applicants will be required to attend a training day where guidance will be provided around fish handling, welfare, tagging and data recording. All vessels involved in the programme will subsequently be monitored. Anglers may participate in the fishery by booking places on an authorised vessel.
Interested persons who wish to apply for authorisation are invited to visit www.fisheriesireland.ie/bluefin to download an information guide and to submit an application.