The last couple of years have been tough for everyone, which doesn’t even need discussing as to why! It has made it hard to pause and focus on the big positives recreational angling has experienced over this same time period, which even in a climate of growing vocal opposition to our sport, have been considerable. 

On top of the growth the sport experienced in 2020, with more new anglers joining the sport than has occurred for decades, there’s been many other big wins. The benefits angling delivers to ones mental health have been noticed and acted upon, with angling even prescribed by the NHS as part of individuals overall mental health management. Organisations like ‘Tackling Minds’ have sprung up, delivering fantastic work in this area and putting across angling in the light that we need it to be seen in. 

Just as inspirational, and perhaps as topical given the latest COP 26 summit, has been the work of the Anglers National Line Recycling Scheme (ANLRS). Working to keep our oceans cleaner and our landfills free of fishing lines that take an eternity to break down, it is yet another example of the positive impact of the angling community, delivering continued ecological benefit. 

We’ve even seen more investment in the sport. The Sea Angling Classic, a competition to rival some of the big Bass fishing tournaments in America, is launching in 2022, having held a more limited invitational event in 2021. Other new businesses focused on recreational fishing have also emerged. We covered ‘Catch and Cook’ in Pembrokeshire last month, whilst the award winning ‘Fins and Forks’ is another to have successfully combined peoples passion for fishing, cooking and eating! Meanwhile, the shore guiding business has perhaps never been stronger!

In addition, the Fisheries Act facilitated funding vehicles specifically for Recreational Sea Anglers, under the “Fisheries and Seafood Scheme’ (FASS). Clubs and charter skippers can now apply for funding in the way Commercial Fishing operators have been able to do for decades! 

So despite all of the opposition, our sport can say it is tackling mental health issues, fighting climate change, supporting the clean up of our oceans and benefiting a recovering economy. How many other sports or hobbies can lay claim to the same?

Yet, I do not believe even in light of these other great achievements it is hyperbole to say that the most exciting development within the U.K.’s recreational sea angling scene in recent times is the CHART programme. For those who have yet to hear of this, CHART stands for CatcH And Release Tagging, and is the specific programme allowing for a managed recreational fishery of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the U.K. across 15 approved Charter vessels. 

The CHART programme is a key step in gathering critical data on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, which in turn will help understand more about the species numbers, possible recoveries, movements and many other habits. This whole picture is vital to ensuring the long term sustainability of the species both in our own waters and globally. Equally, socio-economic studies run alongside the programme provide a compelling argument for the benefits of the economy cashing in on a recreational fishery for the tuna in place of or in addition to a commercial sector. 

Anglers do not need to cast their minds back far to us being shunned in favour of commercial fishing, with bass stocks practically privatised for commercial catch only, whilst a by-product of over protection of such a commercially valuable species was the detriment of species key to the recreational sector, such as flounder, who’s specimen numbers have dwindled alongside an explosion of bass. 

It is, therefore, refreshing to see recreational angling at the forefront of gathering data on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna whilst also being given the opportunity to fish for them. Meanwhile, it is a boom to the charter industry, the forgotten industry when it came to support through lockdowns and arguably the forgotten industry in years of over-fishing depleting reefs of pollock and decimating sandbanks of turbot, ray and plaice. 

The CHART programme is the only way to legally target Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the U.K. As such, if you do wish to fish for tuna, we very much encourage you to get involved and book up a trip with any of the boats that we shall list at the end of this article. Whilst it may be tempting to give it a go yourself, the reality is that the vast majority of people will lack the experience, equipment or know-how to do so in a way that is safe for both the fish and the individuals fishing for them. Make no mistake, this is a fish where a mistake in the process of fishing for it could prove fatal, both to the fish or yourself. We’ve already witnessed many examples on social media of individuals set up in an un-safe way and fear a serious incident is not long away. 

If not for your own safety and that of the fish, it’s also key to support and keep to the legal way to fish for them through the CHART programme if we are to keep and build on a recreational fishery for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the future. This is because to have such a fishery, we must continue to be assigned a quota by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). You may wonder why a quota is required for catch and release and the simple answer is that it assumes a rate of post release mortality. The CHART programme works to ensure best practices that limit this post release mortality rate, whilst the assessment of this outside of the CHART programme is much higher. Needless to say, if we, as a fishery, cannot demonstrate these best practices to limit the post release mortality to within the quota, we may not get given a quota at all in future years. 

The U.K. first attained a quota on 31/12/2020, as part of the EU/UK Trade and Co-operation agreement that came into effect on this date, (the divorce settlement as it has commonly been termed). We obtained 48.4 Tonnes of total allowable catch (TAC). 

In 2021, Recreational angling secured 10 tonnes of the TAC to be allocated to Recreational Angler led Catch, Tag and Release Programmes. England got up and running, whilst NI, Wales and Scotland should be operational in 2022. 20 Tonnes were set aside for Commercial bycatch but it is notable that no ‘pilot commercial fishery’ was permitted in 2021. For once, Recreational Anglers had the top seat at the table!

The next step is for the UK Government to move away from a purely ‘scientific fishery’ operating under a year to year scientific license, and towards a Recreational Fishery as is operated by 13 ICCAT member states already. DEFRA can authorise this anytime now if they wish… There’s a vision and a plan to move towards this and we’ll be fortunate enough to hear more about this in a future issue from those working closest to this. 

The other good news is that, in 2021, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), updated Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna from ‘endangered’ to ‘least concern’, improving the prospects of a sustainable recreational fishery in the U.K. for years to come. 

The CHART programme follows a series of strict protocols. We don’t intend to go into them in any great detail here, because we don’t want this to be viewed as a ‘how to’ to alleviate the prior safety concerns of ‘going it alone’. They can be considered as being broken down into a number of key areas though, to protect the angler and the fish. 

The first of these you will be made aware of when participating in a CHART fishing charter is the presence of a camera on the boat to capture the events. The purpose and agreement regarding the cameras was that they are there to capture the tag, recovery and release process, not the rest of the days activities. This helped secure support for CHART from the influential conservation body, Natural England, a big win for the programme. It may sound a bit ‘Big Brother’, but having heard some of the feedback given, it really is in the interests of skipper and anglers alike, as learnings are shared that ultimately result in better practices and an improved experience for the anglers booking these trips. It must be said that the shared learnings between the 15 charter boats is unlike anything seen in this sector before. These boats are working in a truly united way, in the best interests of each other and their paying clients, it really is fantastic to see. 

Perhaps the second thing you will note is the methods of fishing. Live baits are an absolute no-go so as not to raise an issue with the CEFAS Animal Welfare and Ethics Board (AWERB), who could take the view that in a scientific programme, inflicting harm upon one species (livebaits) to further research into another (BFT) was not ‘in the spirit of the guidelines’ covering licensed scientific research. Whilst dead baits are allowed under CHART, the standard practice you will more likely witness is the use of a ‘spreader bar’ with lots of attractor lures, with just the one ‘stinger’ coming off the back of it. Ben talks far more to this when looking at the technique in the following article, so I shall leave that there, though it is worth noting that the drag of the spreader bar acts as a break on the tuna, limiting the fight time – another desired aim of the programme. 

You’ll also note that the tackle is not aimed to deliver the maximum sport, but don’t worry, you still get more than enough! Rods of 80lb class and reels in the class of the Penn International 80, with extreme line capacity and drag are the go to, and needless to say, you’ll be wearing an appropriate harness which will be fitted to you by the skipper in advance of commencing the trolling for the tuna, or in some cases you will have the option of a fighting chair or fighting the fish from a rod holder, making the sport accessible to a range of anglers of varying age and physical strength.

The purpose of the appropriately scaled tackle is to ensure fight time is as short as possible. Excessive use of energy in tuna will cause O2 depletion and elevated ATP levels kickstarting physiological changes that if not stabilised and reversed cause irreparable tissue damage, including to the heart. If it cannot get these back down to pre-stress levels, it can die, as much as 72 hours after the fight. A correlation between physiological disruption and fight time has been shown, and whilst no direct link to fight time has yet been proven, it is prudent to assume that on balance shorter fight times are better than longer fight times. However, the absolute key that CHART focuses heavily on is the recovery protocols boatside, which restore O2 levels and reverse the CANP process. This is all underpinning why the skipper must make an assessment once 45 minutes fight time has elapsed and, if they don’t feel you will soon bring the fish to the boat, they will hand the rod to another angler or if necessary take over themselves. 

The above assessment is not justification for a ‘merry go-round’ of the rod though. The target is always for one angler to fight the fish from start to end. Passing a rod about poses many of its own safety risks so is best avoided. Given this, you really should ensure you are of adequate fitness to take on one of the biggest, if not the biggest, battles against a fish you will experience in U.K. waters. As I’ll expand on more in a further article, the key is keeping momentum – if you let up, the fish will gain. Stamina and avoiding burn out is absolutely key to bringing the tuna to the boat in good time. If you’re not going to be comfortable fighting it in a stand up harness, you should enquire at time of booking about chairs or rod holder fight options. 

Once the tuna is beside the boat, the skipper and crew really get into action. It’s key to give them space at this stage and not get in the way with the urge to take photos or admire the catch over the side… something that was very easy to forget once a camera was in my hand and that natural urge kicked in! 

The first thing the crew will do is safely secure the tuna with a gaff or giant boga grip tool through the bottom lip, secured by a rope to the side of the boat. If you try holding a stiff gaff at this point, welcome to a broken arm! You may think that they’ll be looking to get a tag in straight away after securing the fish, but this is not the case. The welfare of the tuna is always the first priority, thus tagging comes only once the fish has been assessed and shown the necessary signs of recovery. 

Once tagged, further assessments of the fishes welfare will be made prior to release. Mortality can and will occur, though with these practices is largely avoided on the CHART programme. If a tuna was deemed to have no prospects of recovery, the skipper will engage with the programme management team at CEFAS (Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) to arrange the process to bring the tuna ashore in line with MMO (Marine Management Organisation) guidelines on tuna caught recreationally or as commercial by-catch that can not be released alive. It’s important to note that whilst this risk is low, the appropriate retention of a deceased tuna allows for further studies to take place that will benefit the wider population. 

Having now experienced all of this first hand, it resonates with me as a programme where anglers are giving back to the protection and sustainability of one of the most incredible fish in our oceans. As all of the other recent wins in recreational angling show, we are a community that cares deeply about our oceans and their appropriate management. To participate in this at the coal face is an experience well beyond any typical charter trip, and one I encourage everyone to participate in if the opportunity arises. 

The CHART programme has already delivered significant success and the following figures are provided by Steve Murphy, who has fought for a long time to get this programme off the ground through Bluefin Tuna UK. This has been the campaign arm supported by the Angling Trust, Professional Boatmans Association, Sportfishing Club of the British Isles, Shark Angling Club of Great Britain, dozens of charter skippers directly as well as many many recreational anglers. We truly are indebted to Steve’s hard work and passion in this area, as well as all others engaged with Bluefin Tuna UK over the past few years. 

The following are the latest results from the CHART programme, as of the 31 October. 

  • 15 vessels
  • 321 trips
  • 826 anglers
  • 433 fish tagged  (the ‘stretch estimate’ was 300!)
  • A catch per unit effort of an incredible 1.34 fish per trip – Truly a world class bluefin fishery!

Whilst there are no published stats yet on mortality, fight times, hookup-boatside ratios yet, we are aware that they are incredibly positive, outperforming the programmes expectations.

If you wish to book a CHART tuna trip, subject to final confirmation of the programme being extended into 2022 and the existing charters being approved once more, you can make preliminary bookings on each of these 15 boats:

Skipper: Anthony Hills 
Boat: Peganina 
Skipper: Chris Gill 
Boat: Aquila 

Skipper: Craig Hall 
Boat: Demi Mei 
Skipper: Daniel Margetts 
Boat: Sowenna 

Skipper: Matthew Forrester
Boat: Silver Halo
Skipper: Kev Lavis 
Boat: Crusader 
Skipper: Mark Jury 
Boat: Fortuna II 

Skipper: Murray Collings 
Boat: Swallow II 
Skipper: Nigel Hodge 
Boat: Seawatch 1 
Skipper: Rob Thompson 
Boat: South x Southwest 
Skipper: Ross Parham 
Boat: Spot On 
Skipper: Sam Narbett 
Boat: Bluefin 
Skipper: Stephen George 
Boat: Sandra 
Skipper: Steve Porter 
Boat: True Blue 
Skipper: Steve Sweet 
Boat: Amaretto IV 

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