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Tuna anglers feel ‘snubbed’ over ‘discriminatory’ cap on Bluefin catches

A Bluefin tuna caught in British Gibraltar territorial waters. Photo by Jon Nazca/REUTERS

Regulations capping how many Bluefin tuna can be caught by individual anglers in any given week have drawn flak from the Gibraltar Tuna Fishing Club, which says it has been “snubbed” because it was not consulted on the move.

In a statement, the club said Bluefin tuna numbers had recovered in the Mediterranean and the species was no longer regarded as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN].

It said Gibraltar was bucking the trend by imposing additional restrictions when other countries were scaling back.

And it expressed anger that while local were subject to additional rules, Spanish commercial fishermen continued to fish in British Gibraltar territorial waters.

The statement comes after the Gibraltar Government published regulations opening the tuna season as from June 16, setting a 16.74 tonne quota and imposing a cap on weekly catches.

The move was welcomed by GONHS, which has long called for tighter controls on sport fishing for Bluefin.

But the Gibraltar Tuna Fishing Club said the move is both unfair and unnecessary, and that it could have offered “vital” feedback but had not been consulted despite seeing a meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Dr John Cortes, for over two months.

The club said the IUCN has confirmed that Bluefin tuna are no longer on its endangered list and are now classed as a ‘near threatened’ species in European waters.

“This means that Atlantic Bluefin tuna are completely out of the IUCN’s ‘vulnerable’ category,” the club said.

And while the species is still listed as endangered, the club said the IUCN’s guidance was that regional assessments were more appropriate than global ones when assessing the status of the species.

According to the club, Bluefin’s recovery means the IUCN has indicated that if the trend continues the species will be classed as being of ‘least concern’ in the near future.

“It is therefore regrettable that the club was not present at the last Fishing Working Group meet-ing, in order to present this evidence and discuss the new policy which the minister has implemented,” the club said in its statement.

The Gibraltar Tuna Fishing Club also expressed disappointment in respect of the lack of enforcement action to stop Spanish fishing boats fishing in BGTW.

It said “infamous” methods including longlines were “completely immune from scrutiny” despite their destructive impact on the seabed and marine life, including undersized fish.

“The increase in Spanish anglers fishing with impunity in our waters, both with nets and for tuna, is disappointing,” the club said.

“It seems as if Gibraltarians are always policed whereas others are given a free pass.”

The club also noted that the Gibraltar Government, despite a manifesto commitment, had not increased the yearly quota in line with guidance from ICCAT, the international body that regulates tuna fisheries.
The club called for an “immediate increase” in the tuna quota and asked to be consulted on any future changes to the regulations.

It added that it was “wholly opposed” to the “discriminatory” weekly cap on catches.

“It targets those fishermen who are more committed to the sport and it means that if an angler catches a fish on Monday and Tuesday, they will be banned from fishing for the rest of the week,” the club said.

It also called for catch and release to be allowed in BGTW, in common with almost every tuna-fishing country around the world.

“Given the scientific evidence listed above, the club strongly urges the government to implement a year-round catch and release programme whereby anglers can catch tuna, record their measurements for scientific purposes and then release the tuna safely back into their environment,” the statement said.

The club asked for a seat on the Fishing Working Group and for the regulations to be reviewed.