Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery

Ministerial Decision
Andrew McNee, Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
14 April 2006

Mr Tony Rundle
Chair
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Box 7051 Canberra Mail Centre
CANBERRA ACT 2610

Our reference: 2002/6976

Dear Minister

In July 2004, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) submitted the documents: Assessment Report Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and a draft of the proposed Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan (the ETBF Management Plan) for strategic assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).

The Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (ETBF) has been strategically assessed for the purposes of Part 10 of the EPBC Act, including against the Terms of Reference - Environmental Assessment of the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and the Australian Government Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries (the Guidelines).  The fishery was also assessed in accordance with the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the EPBC Act and to determine whether the fishery would adversely affect species protected by Part 13 of the EPBC Act.  I am pleased to advise that with the completion of a number of requisite administrative and legislative steps, the strategic assessment of the ETBF under the EPBC Act is now complete.  The assessment report is available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage website at the following address: http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/commonwealth/eastern-tuna-billfish.

I am satisfied that actions taken in accordance with the management plan for the ETBF are unlikely to have unacceptable or unsustainable impacts on the environment in a Commonwealth marine area. Accordingly, as Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, I have accredited the ETBF Management Plan for the purposes of making a declaration under section 33 of the EPBC Act in relation to actions affecting the environment in a Commonwealth marine area, as of the date of this letter.  To this effect, I wish to advise that a Notice of Intent to accredit the ETBF Management Plan was tabled in both Houses of Parliament and that the tabling period has now passed.  Accreditation will ensure that that individual fishers do not need to refer actions, taken in a Commonwealth marine area and that are approved by the AFMA in accordance with the ETBF Management Plan 2005, for assessment under the EPBC Act.

Being satisfied that the management arrangements for the ETBF meet the requirements of Part 13 of the EPBC Act, that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that protected species are not injured or killed, and that the level of interactions with such species in the fisheries is not likely to adversely affect the conservation status of protected species or the survival and recovery of listed threatened species, the Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage accredited the ETBF Management Plan on 17 December 2005.  Accreditation will ensure that individual fishers operating in accordance with the management plan are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species.

Although there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to contain environmental risks in the longer term, I am satisfied that performance of the management of the ETBF against the Guidelines is, on balance, adequate.  Given the uncertainty associated with this fishery and the need to progressively improve management arrangements, on 28 July 2005, the Minister declared the fishery an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under section 303FN of the EPBC Act for a period of three years.  The declaration is subject to the conditions at Attachment A.  I draw your attention to subsection 303FT(9) of the EPBC Act, which obliges the Minister to revoke a declaration of an approved WTO, if satisfied that a condition has been contravened.  As from 28 July 2005, product from this fishery was included on the List of Exempt Native Specimens in accordance with section 303DC of the EPBC Act.

The assessment identified a number of issues that need to be addressed to contain environmental risks in the medium term and a number of recommendations (at Attachment A) relating to their management were made in consideration of this decision.  I am pleased to note that agreement on addressing these has been reached.

I would like to thank you for the constructive way in which officers from AFMA have engaged in the strategic assessment process. For your information, I have attached (Attachment B) a copy of my advice to Senator the Hon Eric Abetz.

Yours sincerely

[Signed]

Andrew McNee
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage

14 April 2006

Attachment A: Conditions and Recommendations
Attachment B: Copy of Letter to Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation


Attachment A

Conditions and Recommendations relating to the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery

Conditions

Condition 1
Operation of the fishery will be carried out in accordance with the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2005.

Condition 2
AFMA will inform the Department of the Environment and Heritage of any changes to the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2005 or other significant policy documents.

Condition 3
Reports to be produced and presented to the Department of the Environment and Heritage annually, and to include:

  • a statement of the extent to which the performance criteria of the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2005 were met in the year; and
  • information sufficient to allow assessment of the progress of AFMA in implementing the recommendations made in the Strategic Assessment of the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery 2005.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1
Operation of the fishery is to be carried out in accordance with the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan (as determined) including conducting the reviews identified in the Management Plan against an overarching objective of ensuring that the fishery achieves ecological sustainability.  AFMA to inform DEH of any proposed amendment to the management regime for the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery, including any significant shift in fishing away from the longline method of fishing, to enable DEH to evaluate any impact on the ecological sustainability of the fishery.

Recommendation 2
AFMA to develop a process and timelines for responding to triggering of performance criteria and reference points.

Recommendation 3
AFMA to establish formal consultative mechanisms and subsequently implement research, management, monitoring and compliance approaches to ensure that there is complementary and appropriate management of species (that could include harvest limits, reference points, triggers and management responses to breaches) taken in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and overlapping State managed fisheries (as either target/ primary, by-product/ secondary or bycatch species).

Recommendation 4
DAFF in consultation with AFMA, DEH and other relevant government agencies, must take a proactive role in the early work of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to ensure its effectiveness as the regional fishery management forum for managing and conserving the species on which the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery relies.  This should include the following priorities:

  • developing management options that address concerns of the Working Groups formed under the WCPFC or the SPC on key target species;
  • endeavouring that the membership of the WCPFC includes all nations taking tuna species in the area of the convention;
  • verifying the catch of all nations, both target and bycatch species;
  • strengthening stock assessments of key species (with a priority for big eye tuna and yellowfin tuna which are reportedly ‘fully fished’ in the Pacific and uncertain in the Australian fishery and which may require stock rebuilding objectives to be established);
  • developing national allocations including a position for establishing Australia’s claim for catch of key species, noting the status of two of the key target species, bigeye tuna and yellowfin;
  • establishing a regime in the Commission to protect ecologically related species; and
  • ensuring unsustainable fishing practices and technologies, such as fish aggregating devices, are thoroughly evaluated and if necessary phased out.

Recommendation 5
AFMA to ensure that the observer program continues to meet domestic and international data and management needs and provide the required information at a statistically robust level.

Recommendation 6
Within 3 years AFMA will identify and implement management responses to fishing impacts identified from the ecological risk assessment process, taking into account known fishing impacts on:

  • species in the fishery listed as protected under the EPBC Act;
  • species with low productivity;
  • areas of localised depletion; and
  • species with increasing levels, or significant potential for increased levels, of catch landings.

Recommendation 7
AFMA to ensure an effective effort monitoring system is in place to monitor and manage the effort expended in the fishery from the time of introduction of the Total Allowable Effort.

Recommendation 8
AFMA to monitor the impact of technological advancements in the fishery on the ecological sustainability of target, by-product and bycatch species, and incorporate any mitigation measures into management as necessary taking account of the impacts of technological advancements in stock assessment and setting the Total Allowable Effort.

Recommendation 9
AFMA to analyse the risks and the extent of the localised depletion of swordfish and to develop appropriate management measures to mitigate against any localised depletion as needed.

Recommendation 10
AFMA to introduce management measures to reduce the incidence of capture, injury and mortality to shark species that are identified in the ERA as being susceptible to fishing pressure.

Recommendation 11
AFMA to implement the Tuna and Billfish Longline and Minor Line Bycatch Action Plan (BAP) as required under the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Management Plan (as determined) as a matter of priority and through the actions set in the BAP or through other approaches (eg Directions set under the Fisheries Management Act 1991, regulation or conditions on permits) ensure that the impacts of the fishery on bycatch are minimised and consistent with achieving the objectives of other legislative requirements including:

  • all relevant Recovery Plans (such as the Recovery Plan for Grey Nurse Sharks, Carcharias taurus in Australia, the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Recovery Plan, the Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant Petrels and the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia);
  • all relevant Threat Abatement Plans (such as Incidental Catch (or By-catch) of Seabirds during Oceanic Longline Fishing Operations); or
  • all relevant National Plans of Action (such as the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks).

Recommendation 12
AFMA to monitor the compliance of industry with their code of practice and, where necessary and appropriate, introduce regulatory measures to ensure bycatch is minimised.

Recommendation 13
Within 3 months of acceptance of the ETBF Management Plan by the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, AFMA to apply measures commensurate with the prescriptions of the Longline Fishing TAP to the area of the ETBF between 25 and 30oS.  These measures to remain in place until the new Longline Fishing TAP or interim measures, endorsed by the Department in consultation with key stakeholders, come into effect.

Recommendation 14
AFMA to introduce measures to reduce the incidental capture of marine turtles and to improve the survivability of those that are caught.

Recommendation 15
AFMA to ensure that:

  • morphological measurements are taken from turtles caught;
  • tagging programs are established to collect data on post release survival;
  • genetic samples are taken where possible so that stocks of turtles being caught may be determined; and
  • feedback is provided on modifications to fishing operations or fishing gear to reduce the likelihood of interactions and/or increase the survival rates.