Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery

Ministerial Decision
Ian Campbell, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, 10 August 2004

Senator The Hon Ian Macdonald
Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister

On 25 June 2004 the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) submitted the documents - Strategic assessment report - Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery and the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan 1995, including the proposed Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2004 (No SBT 05), for strategic assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the Act).

The fishery has been strategically assessed against the Terms of Reference - Environmental Assessment of the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery, including the Australian Government's Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries for the purposes of Part 10 of the Act. The fishery was also assessed in accordance with the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the Act, and to determine whether the fishery should be accredited for the purposes of the protected species provisions of Part 13 of the Act. I am pleased to advise that assessment of the fishery is now complete. The assessment report will be available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) website through the following address: http://www.deh.gov.au/coasts/fisheries/index.html.

There are some environmental risks associated with the fishery and I have made six recommendations concerning the fishery. Of these three are the direct responsibility of AFMA and three others relate to the responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). The DAFF recommendations reflect my belief that the stock of SBT can be best managed through an effective Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), which works to explicit and realistic objectives to rebuild stocks to ecologically sustainable levels. The recommendations I have made are designed to encourage DAFF's proactive involvement in the operation of the CCSBT. The recommendations are set out in the Attachment.

I am satisfied that AFMA has provided an adequate account on the current and likely impacts of activities taken in accordance with the proposed amended management plan for the SBT Fishery. I am satisfied that actions taken in accordance with the management plan are unlikely to have an unacceptable or unsustainable impact on the environment in the Commonwealth marine area. Accordingly, I am prepared to endorse the SBT Fishery Management Plan 1995 (as amended) for the purposes of Part 10 of the Act and will table a notice of intent to accredit the management plan as soon as possible.

I am also satisfied that it is unlikely that fishing operations conducted in accordance with the management arrangements will adversely affect the conservation status of protected species, or affect the survival and recovery of threatened species. I am satisfied that the management arrangements for the SBT Fishery, including ongoing monitoring and the introduction of a Tuna Purse Seine Fishery Bycatch Action Plan, meet the requirements of Part 13 of the 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 fishery is not likely to adversely affect the conservation status of protected species or the survival and recovery of listed threatened species. I propose to accredit the plan accordingly. Accreditation will ensure that individual fishers operating in accordance with the Plan are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species.

I am also satisfied that, for the purposes of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the Act, the SBT Fishery provides for the fishery to be managed in an ecologically sustainable way. I note, however that, at present, effective management of the commercial fishery is constrained by the international management context within which the fishery operates. My concern centres on the severely overfished state of the SBT stocks and the concomitant need to reduce take in order to allow for the recovery of the stocks. On balance, I consider the appropriate course of action to be to declare the fishery an approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under Section 303FN of the Act. The WTO declaration will allow the continued export of product from the fishery while requiring the implementation of the recommendations of this report directed to AFMA, other managerial commitments set in the SBT Fishery Management Plan and, to whatever extent possible, an ongoing commitment by CCSBT to support the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to ensure that the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) is fully effective. In this regard I strongly support that Australia continuing to play a proactive role in the CCSBT, with the aim of building a Commission that is an effective regional fishery management forum underpinned by a stock rebuilding objective that is based on ecological sustainability.

I recognize that any action by AFMA to reduce Australia's take of SBT (such as through setting a reduced TAC for Australia's commercial fishers) may not inevitably lead to SBT stock rebuilding, given the global fishery within which it operates.

In arriving at my decision, I have had particular regard to the developments in the management of the fishery. The regime is comprehensive and adaptable and has been developed through a consultative process. It underpinned by appropriate objectives and performance criteria aimed at managing the fishery in an ecologically sustainable manner. Recent improvements introduced include development, implementation and subsequent review of a Bycatch Action Plan (BAP) specific for the purse seine fishery, an observer program, a risk assessment and risk management strategy, improved management objectives, performance measures and performance criteria, introduction of a stock specific reference point, greater clarity of quota decrementation during purse seining and transfer operations and increased accountability for holders of Statutory Fishing Rights. I believe these should enable AFMA to quantify the risks, introduce risk mitigation and compliance measures, identify whether the impacts of the fishery on bycatch, by-product, protected species and the environment are managed at acceptable levels and generally improve AFMA's overall accountability.

I believe that AFMA and DAFF are addressing the environmental risks associated with this fishery and the recommendations I have made are aimed at ensuring continuation of the good management practices. I have included those that relate to AFMA in a letter to Dr Craik in which I seek her agreement to implement those relating to AFMA. I strongly encourage the continuation of AFMA's approach to the ongoing management of the fishery and believe that the recommendations will further strengthen management.

The Attachment outlines the recommendations, which I understand that officials in both our agencies have agreed. This has been a factor in my decision and I look forward to receiving your agreement to implement those that are within the purview of your agency.

I would like to thank you for the constructive way in which your officials have approached this assessment.

Yours sincerely

[signed]

Ian Campbell
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

10 August 2004


Recommendations to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) on the ecologically sustainable management of the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery

The SBT Fishery management regime as described in the SBT Fishery Management Plan (as amended) is considered comprehensive and adaptable and one that has been developed through a consultative process. It is underpinned by appropriate management objectives, performance measures and performance criteria aimed at managing the fishery in an ecologically sustainable manner. The amendments introduced in the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2004 (No SBT 05) include the development and implementation of a Bycatch Action Plan specific for the purse seine fishery, data collection and verification systems including an observer program covering around 10% of the commercial fleet's operations, a catch monitoring program, a risk assessment and risk management strategy, including a compliance plan, the introduction of the CCSBT stock specific reference point, greater clarity of quota decrementation during purse seining and transfer operations and increased accountability for holders of Statutory Fishing Rights. These will assist AFMA to quantify the risks, introduce risk mitigation and compliance measures, identify whether the impacts of the fishery on bycatch, protected species and the environment are managed at acceptable levels and generally improve AFMA's overall accountability.

Recommendations to AFMA

Recommendation 11 : AFMA to inform DEH of any proposed amendment to the management regime for the Australian SBT Fishery, including any significant shift in fishing away from the purse seine method of fishing, to enable DEH to evaluate any impact on the ecological sustainability of the SBT fishery.

Recommendation 2: Operation of the Australian fishery is to be carried out in accordance with the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan 1995 (as amended) including conducting the reviews identified against an overarching objective of ensuring the fishery achieves ecological sustainability.

Recommendation 5: AFMA to ensure that the observer program, implemented to meet domestic and international data and management needs, is capable of providing the required information at a statistically robust level. The observer program is to be conducted against established terms of reference and objectives that provide clear direction in the collection of at least the following:

  • validation of commercial catch information for use in SBT stock assessments and management, including information on fish mortalities occurring from the purse seine fishing operation through the tow back to the farm cages and final transfer into the 'grow out' cages, actual catch rates and the incidence of high grading and over catch;
  • data on bycatch, protected species interactions and ecosystem impacts of fishing operations; and
  • information on the techniques and technologies used to estimate the quantities of fish transferred during fishing operations and the further development of these.

Recommendations to DAFF

Recommendation 3: DAFF to pursue Australian Government objectives to rebuild the SBT stock to ecologically sustainable levels. This is to include working within the CCSBT to:

  • pursue the establishment of interim milestones within CCSBT that includes management processes and measures of progress towards meeting rebuilding objectives;
  • endeavour to ensure the membership of the CCSBT includes all nations taking SBT who have a legitimate historical association with the fishery;
  • pursue the protection of SBT spawning stock and spawning grounds from unsustainable fishing pressures;
  • ensure all take of SBT is monitored through a comprehensive catch documentation scheme; and
  • ensure the recreational take of SBT is taken into account in establishing the global take and setting national allocations.

Recommendation 4: DAFF to ensure DEH is kept informed of any significant change in the CCSBT's management of SBT.

Recommendation 6: Recognising that data on the take of SBT by recreational and charter fishing is inadequate, DAFF in conjunction with the Game Fishing Association of Australia will develop a cost effective and affordable method of reliably estimating the Australian recreational and charter catches of SBT.


Footnotes

1. Numbering relates to order of recommendations in DEH's assessment report.