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Bluefin tuna shoals off Jersey ignite fishing quota debate

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JERSEY’S commercial fishing fleet wants their share of an emerging bluefin tuna market which is currently being exploited by French crews.

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For the second consecutive year bluefin tuna, more common in the Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico, have been seen in huge numbers in Jersey waters.

Videos taken over the bank holiday weekend of shoals of the fish, that can grow to hundreds of kilos and be worth thousands of pounds, have been circulating on social media, with most sightings off the Island’s west coast.

Scientists believe that climate change and rising sea temperatures are responsible for their migration further north. The species is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

And now, Don Thompson, chairman of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said he was drafting a proposition to present to the Fisheries and Marine Resources Panel calling for laws to be relaxed. The panel is due to meet on 9 September.

Commercial fishermen in Jersey and the UK currently have no allocated quota to land bluefin tuna. And laws regarding recreational anglers were tightened last year after images of Islanders landing a 102kg fish appeared online and in the media.

France does have a bluefin quota, with Gallic fishermen able to land and sell the fish.

Mr Thompson claimed that French fleets were catching tuna in Jersey waters as a by-product of their normal work and last year landed up to 45,000kg of the fish at markets in Granville. The haul could have retailed for close to £1.5million. In supermarkets, tuna is currently selling for about £33 per kilo.

A spokesman for the Marine Resources Department said they were aware of two French vessels licensed under the Bay of Granville Agreement that caught tuna on at least one occasion last year, but they believe that was outside Jersey waters. He added that France had a limited quota to catch tuna and that when those were landed, the country, which primarily fishes for the species in the Mediterranean, had already exceeded its annual limit and so fleets had their catch confiscated and did not make any profit.

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Mr Thompson, who said he thought bluefin tuna stocks were healthier than their endangered status suggests, said: ‘There is a desperate need for diversification in our fishing industry. Our fleet almost exclusively targets one species – lobster – and that is not healthy.

‘I know for certain this is not going to be a big fisheries [industry in Jersey] but it might support one or two vessels which might catch one or two fish.’

He also said allowing charter fishing trips to offer tuna-catching expeditions could boost tourism, as anglers from across the world pay ‘thousands and thousands’ to travel to places like Florida to have a go at catching the species.

‘It could be of huge benefit for the Island,’ Mr Thompson said.

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Tony Heart, of fishing charter firm Jersey Fishing, said he would be interested in offering a catch-and-release service for anglers wanting to pursue bluefin tuna.

‘People pay big money to go to the Canary Islands and America to have a go and they don’t always catch them, but they pay the money. It could be good for the Island,’ he said.

The spokesman for Marine Resources said Jersey’s commercial bluefin ban was set by UK limits.

‘We have a fisheries management agreement with the UK, which means that we have to fish under certain sections of their regulations including the quota limits and there is zero quota for bluefin tuna. Any landed here have the potential to get us into hot water.

‘There is a sense of injustice and frustration among our fleets. We are trapped between environmental and legislative demands and our fleets wanting to access more stock.

‘The French quota is so limited that the vessels concerned did not profit from their catches because France was over its quota when they were landed and they were essentially confiscated by the state.’

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
author

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