The return of the Atlantic bluefin tuna to British waters is a remarkable event, especially considering their absence for over 50 years. These remarkable fish, known for their impressive speed and size, signify not only the ocean’s recovering health and diversity but also bring potential benefits to local communities and sustainable industries.
The reasons behind the disappearance and subsequent return of bluefin tuna to UK waters are complex. Overfishing played a role in their decline, but changes in sea temperatures and natural cycles like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which affects sea surface temperatures over decades, also contribute. These environmental changes influence the distribution and migration patterns of marine species, including bluefin tuna. After a long hiatus, they are back in UK waters off the coast of Cornwall, but sadly still at a fraction of the original population.
The economic impact of the bluefin tuna’s return is significant. The CHART (Catch, Tag, Release) Bluefin Tag and release research program, a collaboration between the UK Bluefin Tuna Association and CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science), has enabled legal fishing for bluefin tuna for the first time since the 1950s, contributing to scientific research and local economies. In 2021, the economic impact from CHART anglers was estimated at around £800,000, benefiting skippers, crew, ports, harbours, hotels, and restaurants.
Last year (2023), the government controversially lifted the ban on commercial fishing and a number of high-profile restaurants began to add bluefin tuna to menus. We believe that a more comprehensive understanding of the stock levels and the impact of fishing on this species is essential before making such a decision. The population is quoted to still be 80%-90% down on original stocks and many marine biologists are campaigning for a global ban to help populations grow.
A case in point here – and a counter argument for allowing fishing in UK waters – is that fleets of Asian fishing boats (up to 34 in total, 2021) have been fishing Bluefin tuna (the most valuable fish in the world) off the coast of the UK and Ireland in international waters without any form of restriction. Should we go with a ‘if we don’t, they will anyway’ approach, or should we campaign for international protections?
At the outset of creating Faber, we were clear we wanted to bring British fresh fish to all, in a sustainable and responsible way. Extracting limited stocks and selling at an elite price is not in our make-up; we pledged support for catch and tag programs. These initiatives are vital for collecting data essential for informed and sustainable management of bluefin tuna stocks. By backing these efforts, we aim to contribute positively to marine conservation and ensure the ethical sourcing of ingredients used in our kitchen.
It’s a bit of a minefield when it comes to making these decisions with many opposing views, but our commitment extends beyond the current situation with bluefin tuna. Patience is more than a virtue and sometimes waiting can be the best option. We continually evaluate our sourcing practices and menu offerings to adhere to the highest standards of environmental sustainability and ethical production. This article alone and our decision took hours of research to reach a conclusion. Now is not the time to be extracting Bluefin tuna from our waters. We eagerly anticipate the day when we can confidently offer bluefin tuna, assured that it comes from sources that do not compromise the species’ future viability in a balanced eco-system.
By supporting conservation efforts and choosing ethically sourced ingredients, we can all play a part in preserving the richness and diversity of our shorelines, which provide us with some of the best seafood in the world, but we can only have this with careful stewardship.