Donegal anglers are taking part in a unique catch-tag-release programme to help international scientists learn more about the largest tuna in the world.
Under the Tuna CHART programme, recreational anglers on board five authorised charter vessels in the county will be catching Atlantic bluefin tuna. Skippers will then be tagging and releasing them back into the sea, alive, from July to November this year. The five boats are based at Killybegs (4) and Bundoran.
The data collected on board authorised vessels will then be used for scientific assessment to improve knowledge of population structures, fish size and how bluefin tuna is distributed in Irish waters and throughout the North Atlantic.
Migrating through North Atlantic waters, bluefin tuna frequent Irish coastal waters to feed. Bluefin is an iconic sports angling species and can grow up to 1,500 lbs (approximately 680 kgs).
They are also a much sought-after food for the Japanese market.
Under strictly-controlled conditions, 685 bluefin tuna were caught, tagged, measured and released through the Tuna CHART programme in 2020.
All were caught by anglers in Irish coastal waters and then tagged by skippers.
The fish is always kept in the water to ensure correct handling and tagging; the largest tuna tagged in Ireland in 2020 was 2.75 metres long, estimated to weigh over 800 lbs (approximately 360 kgs).
Now in its third year, the programme has been a successful collaboration between Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Marine Institute in partnership with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department for Environment, Climate and Communications.
Charlie McConalogue T.D., Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, welcomed the continuation of the programme: “As a Donegal man, I have a keen interest in the Bluefin tuna data collection programme. I am delighted at the ongoing success of this programme as it allows our scientific partners in the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland to collect valuable data and improve our understanding of the migratory patterns of Bluefin tuna in Irish waters in a tightly controlled environment. This programme also provides our Coastal Communities with access to a highly desired angling market that will bring a new demographic of tourists to our spectacular Wild Atlantic Way. I am particularly pleased with the large increase in data collected in 2020, despite the restriction in place as a result of Covid and am anticipating an even more successful season this year thanks to our experienced skippers who have received authorisations for 2021.”
Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications said: “The 22 angling vessels authorised by my Department will contribute substantially to essential Bluefin tuna data collection as they migrate along the Irish coastline. The recreational fisheries sector is crucial in the delivery of this data collection programme and we look forward to continue working with all the State agencies involved. I want to acknowledge the key role of the authorised charter skippers and their crews who are bringing their unique expertise to bear on providing valuable data for scientific purposes, and the ‘citizen scientist’ anglers who will catch the fish. The fact that 685 fish were tagged last year with no mortalities recorded is a great achievement by the skippers.”
A full list of authorised skippers and vessels for the Tuna CHART programme in 2021 can be found at www.fisheriesireland.ie/bluefin