The commercial fleet want access to the stocks to diversify their industry in the wake of dramatic declines in their staple catches of lobster and crab.
And it has emerged that discussions have been held between the government and scientists about measuring stocks of the prized species in Channel Island waters.
Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said Jersey should look to Prince Edward Island, the smallest Canadian province, whose industry for commercial and charter boat tuna fishing is worth about $2 million a year.
In recent years, fishermen have reported seeing an ‘abundance’ of Atlantic blue fin tuna – which are classified as endangered – around the Island in the summer months but there is a total ban on catching them for Jersey vessels. No such ban applies to French boats.
French newspaper Ouest France reported that 5.4 tonnes of tuna were landed at Granville market last year. A single fish can be worth thousands of pounds.
Mr Thompson said primary fishing stocks such as lobster and crab were ‘falling off a cliff edge’ and the fleet was desperate for diversity to save the industry.
‘I don’t think anyone disagrees that fishing for just two or three different stocks is not sustainable and we need to be able to diversify to secure the existence of the fleet. It’s more than a wish – it’s vital we diversify,’ he said.
There are heightened concerns, in the wake of Brexit, that French fishing boats that may now struggle to fish in UK waters could look to Granville Bay, putting greater pressure on stocks. The Granville Bay Treaty, which allows French and Jersey boats access to waters between here and France, is unaffected by Brexit.
The JEP has learned that government officials have held talks with scientists from the University of Exeter about extending an electronic tagging programme for bluefin tuna on the UK’s south coast to local waters. Environment Minister John Young has said there are currently no plans to lift the tuna ban.
Mr Thompson said the data could be used for Jersey to present a case to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas – which sets catch limits and quotas – to be able to catch the species here commercially.
Bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic are thought to have declined by 50 per cent since the 1960s and fishing is still at an unsustainable level today, the Environment Department said last year. Most catches of bluefin are taken from the Mediterranean Sea, which is the most important bluefin fishery in the world.
A spokesman for the Marine Resources Department stressed that there were no formal plans to carry out a tagging study in Jersey but discussions had taken place. A report outlining future options is due to be released next month. Mr Thompson said a study was likely to cost about £50,000 and would need
to be funded by the taxpayer.
‘It sounds a lot, except when you look at what it could be worth for the Island,’ he added.
Mr Thompson said he believed the total allowable catch for tuna in the north Atlantic was about 38,0000 tonnes. He said even if Jersey could get a tiny quota, ‘millions’ could be made from a charter fishing industry as well as commercial fishing. A day out on a tuna-fishing charter can cost in the region of £800.
‘If we look at Prince Edward Island, they had a decent quota for commercial fishing but that got reduced to about three tonnes and quite a bit of that was reserved for recreational or charter fishing. It is said to be a multi-million-pound industry from three tonnes of fish.
‘What frustrates fishermen is that we have not asked to go and catch tonnes. We just need to get beyond where we are, which is a total ban while the French are catching tonnes in our waters. We have got to find a way to make it a bit more fair and move forward.’