Ireland has not made a specific application to Europe for a commercial bluefin tuna quota. The available bluefin tuna quota is allocated each year to member states on the basis of relative stability as established in the late 1990s. At the time, Ireland had no track record of commercial fishing for bluefin and, accordingly, did not receive a quota allocation. The only way to obtain a share of the EU quota now would involve reducing the shares of those EU member states which do have quota and for whom bluefin is an important commercial fishery. A small bluefin by-catch quota is available to Ireland, primarily for use in our important northern albacore tuna fishery and the Celtic Sea herring fishery, where there can be bluefin tuna by-catch. This by-catch quota is also available to other member states of the European Union.
While obtaining a viable commercial quota is unlikely in the short to medium term, I am glad to be able to inform the Deputy that during the negotiations for the new management plan for bluefin tuna in the east Atlantic, Ireland was successful in introducing a clause allowing countries without a commercial quota to set up a catch-tag-release fishery. This will allow for the gathering of scientific data by trained tagging operators. My Department is currently working with the Marine Institute and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, as well as the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which has policy responsibility for recreational angling, to establish a pilot project for such a fishery in 2019. I believe that this fishery will be most beneficial to Ireland, as it will increase our knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of bluefin tuna in north-western waters, while also providing a small but valuable tourism benefit to peripheral coastal communities such as those in Donegal Bay.