Bluefin tuna given protection in Australia

By Marina Kamenev with AAP 26 November 2010
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The critically endangered southern bluefin tuna has been given more protection in Australian waters.

AUSTRALIA’S SOUTHERN BLUEFIN TUNA stocks will be protected after federal Environment Minister Tony Burke listed the species under national laws. The tuna would be listed as “conservation dependent”, he said on Wednesday.

Professor Craig Franklin from the University of Queensland welcomed the new listing. “It’s important and it’s well overdue,” he says. “The species has been under pressure for a long time due to its value.”

Ninety per cent of southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) are caught near the Great Australian Bight, in South Australia, as juveniles. They are then farmed until they reach maturity, and sold to a dozen international markets, including Japan where the meat is prized for use as sashimi.

“While ongoing improvements in management measures are helping to stabilise the population, the breeding population is still considered to be less than eight per cent of unfished levels,” the minister says.

One of these improvements was made by the Port Lincoln-based fishing company Clean Seas, which in 2009 became the first company in the world to breed southern bluefin tuna in captivity.

Fishing still allowed

However, the listing would not restrict fishing or burden the fishing industry with regulation, the minister added. “Fishing can continue under existing arrangements, but it will now be a legal requirement that the species remain under a plan of management that includes actions to stop its decline and support its long-term recovery,” he says.

Tony stressed that only global management could help the migratory species recover.

Australia is one of the countries in the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, which sets global southern bluefin tuna catch quota levels. The commission aims to reduce the global southern bluefin tuna catch by 20 per cent over the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

In October 2009, the Australian quota for catching bluefin tuna was cut from 5,265 t to 4,015 t. However, that’s not low enough for environmental group Greenpeace, which argues the species is on the brink of collapse and has been lobbying for a zero catch to be imposed until 2030.