Home' Ausmarine : November 2009 Contents Matters are hotting up in the tuna
industry in the Northern Hemisphere.
Governments are flexing their muscles in
the EU (European Union), environmental
organisations are downbeat in their
assessment of the resources on Pacific
and Atlantic northern bluefin.
The propaganda war is clearly being
won by the environmentalists, but events
in Southeast Asian waters are coming to a
head. The Asia Pulse, published on
September 16, 2009, proclaims: "South
Korea gets serious about bluefin". "South
Korea is ready to breed bluefin tuna to
better meet global consumer demand and
cope with dwindling stocks that have
triggered calls for fishing restrictions,"
according to local aquaculture experts.
That comes from a nation that has
notoriously been heavily involved in over
catching. The article went on to say:
"Experts from the state-run National
Fisheries Research and Development
Institute (NFRDI) said local tuna farming,
which first began in 2007 with 11 fish, has
since expanded to 300 bluefin being raised
in net cages off Yokyi Island, about 520km
southeast of Seoul on the country's
The first commercial sales of tuna raised
in special cages should take place in around
2015, with good potential for overseas sales
to countries like Japan and China, they said.
"At present, researchers can only catch
juvenile fish weighing less than three kilos
and raise them in specially-built net cages,
but efforts are under way to breed the fish
directly from tuna held in captivity," said
Kim Eung-oh, director of the NFRDI's
South Sea Fisheries Research Institute.
"Researchers may be able to start collecting
fertilised eggs from the tuna as early as next
year if the conditions are right," he said.
I believe, and know, such statements are
easily made but hard to put into practice.
The EU has now tried for years to close the
lifecycle of northern bluefin in the
Mediterranean with limited success so far.
In Japan, quite a number of major
companies are trying to do the same also
with, as yet, only limited success. Only
Kinki University of Japan has the
distinction to be able to claim the life-cycle
closure of northern bluefin. Kinki is
producing tuna up to 60kgs under the
already famous "Kindai" brand name.
It took some 36 years to get to that stage
as the propagation cycle and spawning
is executed in the wild, making it difficult
Clean Seas Tuna (CST) in South
Australia, with its onshore facilities, has
been able to accomplish the closure in the
second year of operation. CST, at the time
of writing, still has some young southern
bluefin tuna, 35-36cms in length and 0.75
kilos in weight. It is indeed a remarkable
breakthrough, and made headlines
around the world in scientific circles and
keeps us in good stead for the future.
The way we see it at present, we can
claim to be the only tuna fishery moving
towards sustainability, which is
increasingly becoming the buzzword
around the world.
Even in Japan, something unprecedented
is happening right now. We have never
before seen Japanese newspapers
commenting on overfishing. Japan Times,
September 20, 2009 announced in
screaming headlines: "Panel urges 50% cut
in annual bigeye catch due to overfishing".
The article continued to say: "A regional
commission for ocean resources
management has drawn up a proposal
calling for a cut of up to 50 percent in the
bigeye tuna catch in the central and
western Pacific Ocean due to overfishing,
"The proposal by the scientific panel of
the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries
Commission is likely to have a major
impact on domestic fishermen and
consumers as Japan is the largest catcher of
the fish, which is used for sashimi.
"The panel is calling for approval of
catch quotas at an annual meeting of the
commission on the French Polynesian
island of Tahiti in December.
"According to the Fisheries Agency, the
total catch of bigeye tuna in the central
and western Pacific amounted to 143,000
tonnes in 2007, compared with 20,000
tonnes in 1950.
"The commission agreed on a 30 percent
cut in the bigeye catch over three years at an
annual gathering last year, but concluded
that the accord alone would be insufficient,
given how the targets are implemented by
each country, the sources said.
"The December meeting will likely
discuss possible cuts in catches using the
longline fishing method, adopted by Japan,
as well as roll net fishing, mainly used by
developing countries, such as Indonesia,
the sources added."
The tuna saga is like a cancerous growth
at present, spreading around the Northern
Hemisphere. Environmental organisations
are becoming stronger but this time it is
with some justification, as the pressure on
the northern stocks is increasing
constantly, but we need to make sure that
the hype doesn't spill over to the Southern
Hemisphere, where we have not only a
different stock, but have had strict quota
controls for many years on southern
On bluefin, the EU's credibility is at
stake. The European Commissioner Joe
Borg's inability to control the bluefin tuna
fishery may drag the entire EU into
disrepute, so European Greens warned. In
Morocco last year, the scientific advice was
for catches in 2009 of 8,000 -- 15,000
metric tonnes. The EU refused to support a
proposal to set the quota at 15,000 metric
tonnes, instead the European Commission
lobbied intensively to defeat this proposal
in favour of its own proposal for 25,000
Commissioner Joe Borg has never fully
explained the rationale behind the
decision in November 2008 to set the
allowable catch (TAC) for bluefin tuna at a
level almost three times higher than the
maximum advised to guarantee stock
recovery (8,000 metric tonnes). The bluefin
population has plummeted as a
consequence. A blind man could see it -- if
you target only large fish in breeding areas,
your fishery is doomed to failure, and
that's what happened in many instances in
At the time of writing this column,
Mediterranean nations have deferred EU
decisions on a bluefin tuna trade ban to a
later date. Opposition at the meeting of
national representatives in Brussels came
from Italy, Spain, Malta and France to
placing northern bluefin on the
endangered species list -- at least to wait to
the end of the year, a communiqué said.
EU environment ministers are expected
to come up with a decision if everything
else fails by late December also. A lot of
political skulduggery is at play, and a lot
of money involved for the economies
around the Mediterranean, and a lot of
face saving to be worked on as everybody
wants to take the moral high ground and
nobody is prepared to make the hard
decisions, so my informants tell me!
One of the biggest difficulties is every
country around the Mediterranean wants
to manage their own tuna fisheries as they
see fit. The problem, however, is (and
everyone seems to forget) it is all the same
stock. There is the need to make collective
decisions about fisheries management,
from the EU on the northern coast to the
African states in the south.
Right now Rafferty's rules apply.
Nobody really cares and the fishery in the
Mediterranean is becoming worse every
day. Whatever rules can be worked out over
the next six months, they need to be
adhered to and that is on present
indications highly unlikely.
Disclosure: Members of the Baird family or
companies in the Baird Publications group own
shares in Clean Seas.
A column of personal opinion by one of Australia's leading
fishing industry entrepreneurs. Hagen Stehr AO of Port Lincoln.
November 2009 AUSMARINE
Northern and southern
bluefin tuna fisheries are quite different
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