Bluefin Tuna consultation

Bluefin licenses? Consultation? Why?

(This is the first a number of blogs we will publish regarding the DEFRA consultation on ‘permitting regimes in a Bluefin Catch and Release Recreational Fishery’).

As you may have seen (including on our Facebook page), DEFRA have just launched a consultation as described above.
You may have questions regarding why we require licenses to fish for Bluefin, and why DEFRA are undertaking a consultation about that licensing regime? In this blog we’ll try to answer those questions.

But first…

Recent history.
Following the large scale seasonal arrivals of Atlantic Bluefin to the UK’s Western waters, (from about 2016), both recreational and commercial fishers have understandably been interested in utilising the opportunity it presents.

We lobbied for, won and designed the English CHART programmes of 2021 and 2022 which have provided answers to the questions DEFRA set us back in 2020, questions that required answers before a recreational fishery could be considered.

Are the fish here in large numbers?

Can UK skippers and anglers effectively target (i.e. catch) them?

Can they do so with ‘acceptable’ mortality outcomes?
Is there demand from anglers for such fishing opportunities?

Can the fishery provide measurable socio-economic benefits?

With all the answers conclusively YES, the obstacles to a recreational fishery were substantially lowered.

We initially began some ‘scoping’ conversations with DEFRA regarding a possible Catch and Release Recreational Fishery (CRRF) last summer. Sadly the chaos of government with multiple PM’s and Fisheries Ministers over a few months, curtailed any real policy decisions.

However, some parts of the ‘process’ did continue.
Last Autumn DEFRA put out a consultation regarding what we should do with our Bluefin tuna quota, (as part of a larger consultation on post brexit quota use).

The responses they received showed the support for a bluefin CRRF.

The ‘what should we do’ question was answered.

The next questions are ‘HOW should we do it?’, and that’s where we are at right now……

But some of you may be asking why do we even need licenses to fish for bluefin when we don’t for any other species? That is where ICCAT come into it……

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

ICCAT are a supranational government body established via a treaty framed under the United Nations auspices.

All 50 odd member nations (now including the UK since 2021) who are signatories are required to meet ICCAT requirements and regulations.

One of those requirements is that any CPC, (member) may authorise a recreational fishery, but….

Each CPC shall regulate recreational and sport fisheries by issuing fishing authorizations to vessels for the purpose of sport and recreational fishing.

This has been interpreted by every ICCAT member who operates recreational fisheries for bluefin to mean a ‘license’ (i.e. ‘authorisation’) is required for operators to well, operate in the fishery.

So that’s why we need a ‘license’.

But, the UK cannot currently issue licenses for any form of recreational fishing…..

The UK Fisheries Act.

Whilst the UK fisheries Act contains a lot that is good for recreational anglers, (RSA funding opportunities for example), the wording regarding licensing of fishing vessels predates the idea of a recreational bluefin tuna fishery.

The wording as it stands specifically precludes the ability to issue licenses for any form of recreational fishing…..


DEFRA need to make an amendment to the Act to specifically allow the issuance of licenses to target bluefin tuna recreationally.

Back door sea angling licenses?

Some have expressed concern that this is a back door path to requiring and issuing a wider ‘sea angling rod license’. In our conversations with DEFRA they have repeatedly stated that the wording change in the Act will refer specifically to bluefin tuna. That is indicated in the ‘permitting’ consultation document that was issued yesterday.

‘Both the prohibition and permitting regimes legislation will only apply to BFT, as required by ICCAT in order to manage the fishery’.

‘The proposed permitting regimes will be constrained to the issuing of permits for the recreational targeting of BFT for catch and release purposes, to maximise the social and economic contribution of the recreational fishery, given the UK’s limited quota’

I would lose no sleep over this bluefin permitting regime if I worried about a wider sea angling license…..

Statutory instruments and consultations.

So, a change to the Fisheries Act is required and this is not unusual for legislative acts to be ‘tweaked’ a few years after they are adopted.

These changes are made by the use of a ‘Statutory Instrument’ (‘SI’), which is a tool by which Acts of Parliament can be amended without passing the whole bill again. They are ‘secondary legislation’ and usually when ‘technical’ in nature are ‘waved through’ in the usual Parliamentary business.

So we have an SI being drafted to change the law, a bit, to allow the issuance of licenses so we can fish for bluefin compliant with ICCAT regulations…..

So what’s with the consultation?

Well, Statutory Instruments are usually drafted by the legal office of the Government Department concerned, often following consultations with interested bodies and parties whilst the SI is in draft.
And that’s why DEFRA are holding a consultation on the ‘permitting regime’ (licensing) for bluefin tuna.

But it isn’t just a technical requirement, DEFRA are genuinely seeking feedback to ensure they create a regime that is workable and supported by operators in the fishery. It is your opportunity to express an opinion on multiple aspects of the licensing regime. We may have to live with this regime for 4-5 years at least so let’s all work to ensure it actually is really fit for purpose.

What has our role been in this consultation so far?

A small group representing various RSA organisations was approached by DEFRA to participate in discussions over seven weeks in the late spring, to help shape the initial proposed framework that is within this consultation.
We think the draft accurately reflects the conversations and draft conclusions of those discussions. That doesn’t mean we agree with every proposal, or that we don’t feel there are better ways of doing some things. But we do feel it is a very good starting point and it is after all, a consultation, i.e. you get to express your views and if enough respondees object or propose a ‘better way’, then things can change.

We will wrap up there, that’s enough legal, technical fisheries legislation chat for one session.

In coming days and weeks we will be posting more blogs here to try and explain some of the aspects of the proposals that may not at first be obvious, and to highlight where we feel emphasis or wording needs clarifying or changing.