Home' Ausmarine : Jan 2010 Contents The sensational headlines above refer to another marathon
confrontation between the fishing industry and the usual
consortia of government, managers, scientists and the green
movement. This time the subject is the southern bluefin tuna.
The case mounted by each side is true to form and a resolution
satisfactory to all parties appears remote.
Essentially the argument is thus; based on in-house and secret
scientific evidence the Commission for the Conservation of
Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) determined that the stocks of
southern bluefin tuna (SBT) were in serious trouble and quotas
allocated to participating countries would have to be reduced to
ensure continued existence of the fish.
The Commission used statistical models to estimate SBT
population size. It claimed that the low levels of spawning stock,
low levels of annual recruitment of young fish, and evidence of
several historically low year classes since the end of the 1990s
indicated that the spawning biomass of SBT was likely to be less
than ten percent of the unfished level.
The Commission announced on October 23, 2009 it would cut
the total allowable catch by twenty percent. As the largest catcher,
Australia is faced with a quota reduction of thirty percent.
Predictably, the decision has satisfied no one.
Tuna fishing is a major industry in Australia, particularly in the
SBT centre, Port Lincoln, South Australia. Already reeling from a
decision to allow iron ore exports through Port Lincoln, green
campaigns against tuna fishing, marine park implementation and a
very difficult market period, the quota cut will cause severe hardship.
The Australian Tuna Association (ATA), which represents the
Port Lincoln community, disputes the scientific claims. Brian
Jeffries, the ATA CEO, believes the stock recovery is underway and
they are questioning the cuts and will seek redress.
Having been penalised by previous reductions in quota, tuna
fishers are now reporting increasing and large numbers of SBT in
southern waters. They are also angry that the benefits that should
have flowed from large cuts to the quota in 1990, and then by 50
per cent in 2006, were cancelled out by years of illegal overfishing
Several years ago, the Japanese Government admitted it had
illegally taken more than 120,000 tonnes of tuna above its total
allowable catch (TAC). The figure is believed to be closer to
Japanese thieves should be penalised
Mr Jefferies says there should be a debate about whether Japan
needs to pay back the thousands of tonnes of tuna it was illegally
catching and selling.
"They should pay back 200,000 tonnes, when they only have a
quota of 6,000 tonnes -- this is a political issue for the two
countries. Without the Japanese over-catch from the last 20 years
the stock would be in a very strong position and then we wouldn't
be even having this debate. Frankly, we're not prepared to pay the
price for someone else's systematic fraud".
The green movement also expressed dissatisfaction with
the twenty percent reduction believing it to be insufficient. That
is the view of TRAFFIC, a program of the conservation
"Overfishing will wipe out the breeding population of
Atlantic bluefin tuna in three years unless catches are
dramatically reduced," the group claimed and then used the
situation with the northern species as an added reason to curtail
fishing in the south.
Much of the green comment was alarmist and without
A TRAFFIC spokesman said: "The southern bluefin tuna is at an
all-time low, below ten percent of its original population size, and
what that means is at any time it could collapse... The prized
southern bluefin tuna industry, worth hundreds of millions of
dollars to Australia, could be heading for a major collapse unless a
moratorium on fishing the species is adopted."
So, the managers and the public have a choice in what
to believe in the SBT confrontation, the alarmist, often
unsubstantiated cries from the greenies, the statistical,
computer-derived statements from the scientists or the
unsophisticated but experienced claims from the fishermen
-- the only ones out on the water.
South coast tuna fishermen applied their own "scientific
analysis" and put out a challenge: "If you ever believed someone
could walk on water from Sydney to Bermagui, they could do it at
the moment on the backs of southern blue fin."
Perhaps the final solution for the SBT will come with the fishing
industry after all. Port Lincoln tuna fisherman Hagen Stehr's
company, Clean Seas Tuna, has recently, in a world first, closed the
loop and produced SBT in tanks ashore.
The Clean Seas boss said, "It is highly realistic that in the
medium term, Clean Seas will achieve production levels, effectively
duplicating Australia's southern bluefin tuna wild catch quota
In the meantime, a vital primary industry struggles to make
January 2010 AUSMARINE
Tuna for sale at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo
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