Greens Bid to Halt Australia's Bluefin Tuna Fishery Defeated

CANBERRA, Australia, February 8, 2007 (ENS) - The Howard Government today turned back an attempt by the Australian Greens to close down Australia’s A$200 million southern bluefin tuna industry. The southern bluefin tuna is classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

On the third day of the current Parliamentary session, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert moved to disallow Australia's southern bluefin tuna quota for 2007.


Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"The government wants to see Australia take the largest share of this critically endangered species, taking more than 5,000 tonnes per year even as stocks have been hammered to the edge of extinction," Senator Siewert said.

Australian Minister for Fisheries and Conservation Senator Eric Abetz said that the effect of the Greens’ motion in the Senate today to disallow Australia’s national catch allocation would have been to close the fishery immediately for at least six months.

He said it would have put billions of dollars of investments and at least 3,500 South Australian jobs at risk.

“Australia’s national catch allocation was agreed by the international Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, CCSBT, as part of a landmark agreement, spearheaded by Australia, to cut back global catches, and is within levels recommended by the CCSBT’s independent scientific committee," Senator Abetz said.


Senator Eric Abetz is Australian Minister for Fisheries and Conservation in the Liberal Government of Prime Minister John Howard (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
“Make no mistake about it, the CCSBT agreement represents a win for the Australian industry and a win for the southern bluefin tuna itself," he said.

"The Greens believe revelations of massive overfishing by Japan last year should have signalled an immediate cutback on quotas by all nations," Senator Siewert countered. "Instead Australia is pushing ahead in total disregard of scientific advice, in a move which will sweep the oceans clean of this remarkable predatory fish."

The disagreement centers upon the scientific basis for continuing to fish for the giant tunas.

"This species has been listed as overfished by Australia's Bureau of Rural Sciences every year since reporting began in 1992," said Greens Senator Siewert.

“The fact the Australian Greens oppose our national allocation - despite it being consistent with the advice of the CCSBT’s independent scientific committee - demonstrates yet again their policy of putting ideology ahead of evidence and the livelihoods of Australian families,” the fisheries minister argued.

Senator Siewert said that the former Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, "turned his back" on the southern bluefin. She called on the current Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull to act "before the species - and the industry - is wiped out by overfishing."


Southern bluefin tuna (Photo courtesy Government of South Australia)
Senator Abetz welcomed Labor’s support for the Howard Government’s position on the tuna fishery, but questioned if this support would be maintained if Labor were to be elected to government.

“For the best part of 10 years, Labor’s Environment spokesman Peter Garrett, as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, developed, supported and advocated the policies which, if implemented, would close down the southern bluefin tuna industry in Australia,” said Senator Abetz.

Southern bluefin tuna, Thunnus maccoyii, are large, fast swimming fish that live in the open seas. The only known breeding area is in the Indian Ocean, southeast of Java, Indonesia.

Southern bluefin tuna can live for up to 40 years, reach a weight of over 200 kilograms, and measure more than two meters (seven feet) in length. They are mainly caught from December to March when they are present along the continental shelf in the Great Australian Bight region.

Much of Australia's southern bluefin catch is towed alive to a small region offshore of Port Lincoln, South Australia where the big fish are fattened in pens for the Japanese sushi market.

The Australian catch peaked in 1982 at 21,500 metric tons and tuna farming began as a result of the declining wild fishery.


Frozen southern bluefin tuna await buyers at a Japanese market. (Photo by Alistair Douglas courtesy Government of South Australia)
In response to increasing concerns about sustainability, Australia, Japan and New Zealand formed the CCSBT in 1984, to limit and manage the total allowable catch - the Australian share has been 5,265 metric tons since 1990.

The CCSBT says that its reviews of southern bluefin tuna farming and market data during 2006 suggest that southern bluefin tuna catches may have been "substantially under-reported over the past 10-20 years."

The impact of unreported catches on the estimates of past total catch and CPUE meant that it was not possible to proceed with the current Management Procedure, and that the Management Procedure needs to be re-evaluated.

Scenario modeling showed that in order to reduce the short term risk to 2014 of further declines in stock size, a meaningful reduction in catch below 14,925 metric tonnes was required, the CCSBT says.

The CCSBT agreed to a three year total allowable catch, TAC, of 11,810 tonnes, which is a TAC reduction of 3,115 tonnes.

In addition, Taiwan and the Republic of Korea have undertaken to maintain their actual catch below 1,000 tonnes for a minimum of three years, giving a total actual catch level that should be below 11,530 tonnes for a three year period.

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