Southern and Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery

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

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

Dear Mr Rundle

On 14 July 2004 the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) submitted the documents - assessment report - Southern and Western Billfish Fishery and the proposed Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan, for strategic assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (the Act).

The fishery has been strategically assessed against the Terms of Reference - Environmental Assessment of the Southern and Western Tuna Billfish 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. Once decisions are finalised the assessment report will be available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) website through the following address:

I am satisfied that AFMA has provided an adequate report of the current and likely impacts of activities taken in accordance with the management plan. There are some environmental risks associated with the fishery and I have made a number of recommendations (at Attachment A) relating to their management. I understand that these recommendations have been agreed by officials in our two agencies. Subject to our agreement on recommendations, I am satisfied that the requirement of Parts 10, 13 and 13A of the Act have been met.

In particular, I am satisfied that actions taken in accordance with the management policy are unlikely to have an unacceptable or unsustainable impact on the environment. Accordingly, I am prepared to endorse the management plan for the purposes of Part 10 of the Act and will table a notice of intent to accredit it as soon as possible after we have agreed on the recommendations.

I am also satisfied that it is unlikely that fishing operations conducted in accordance with the management plan 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 Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery, including ongoing monitoring and the implementation of a fishery specific 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 of the survival and recovery of listed threatened species. I propose to accredit the management 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 note that management of the Australian fishery is constrained by the international management context within which the fishery operates. In this regard I strongly support Australia continuing to play a proactive role in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), with the aim of building a Commission that is an effective regional fishery management forum.

I am also satisfied that, for the purposes of the wildlife trade provisions in Part 13A of the Act, the Management Plan provides for the fishery to be managed in an ecologically sustainable way. I accordingly propose to amend the list of exempt native specimens established under s303DB of the Act to include product from this fishery for a period of five years.

In arriving at my decision, I have had particular regard to recent developments in the management of the fishery. The proposed regime is comprehensive and adaptable and has been developed through a consultative process. It is underpinned by appropriate objectives and performance criteria aimed at managing a fishery in an ecologically sustainable manner. Recent improvements include development, implementation and subsequent review of the Bycatch Action Plan (BAP), an observer program, a risk assessment strategy, improved management objectives, performance measures and performance criteria, introduction of stock specific reference points and increased accountability for holders of Statutory Fishing Rights. I believe these measures should enable AFMA to quantify 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.

Integral to my decision were several distinguishing characteristics of this fishery, including the small number if fishers operating under a conservative Total Allowable Catch in the Indian Ocean context, the absence of reported interactions with protected species, particularly seabirds and marine turtles, proactive measures to reduce the bycatch of sharks and an effective observer program to verify catch data. I also noted AFMA's commitment to all relevant Recovery Plans, Threat Abatement Plans and National Plans of Action embedded in the management plan.

AFMA has a strong history of recognising risks in this fishery and working hard with industry through the Management Advisory Committee, to address them. I strongly encourage the continuation of this approach to the ongoing management of the fishery and believe hat my recommendations will further strengthen management. I look forward to receiving your agreement to implement the AFMA recommendations.

Given the international context in which the management of the fishery operates, I have also made recommendations aimed at supporting Australia's proactive involvement in the operation of the IOTC. These are included in a letter to Senator Macdonald, Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation in which I seek his agreement to implement those relating to DAFF. A copy of thus letter is attached for your information (see Attachment B).

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

Yours sincerely,


Ian Campbell
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

10 November 2004

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

Recommendation 1: Operation of the fishery is to be carried out in accordance with the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan (as determined) including conducting the reviews identified in the management plan against an overarching objective on ensuring that the fishery achieves ecological sustainability. AFMA to inform DEH of any proposed amendment to the management regime for the Western 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 a performance criterion.

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 taken in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery and overlapping State/Territory managed fisheries (as either target, by-product or bycatch).

Recommendation 4: AFMA to further develop effective consultative mechanisms with Parks - North in DEH, responsible for the management of the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, to ensure that the fishing within the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery is compatible with the management of species of conservation importance reliant on the waters around these islands.

Recommendations 5: AFMA in consultation with AFMA, DEH and other relevant government agencies, to continue to take a proactive role in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to ensure its effectiveness as the regional fishery management forum for managing and conserving Indian Ocean tuna and tuna like species. This should include the following priorities:

  • all nations taking tuna species in the Indian Ocean are members of the IOTC;
  • verifying the catch of all nations, both target, by-product and bycatch species;
  • strengthening stock assessments of kep species (with a priority for big eye tuna (Thunnus obsesus) which is reportedly overfished and which may require stock rebuilding objectives to be established if current management measures, such as improved controls over the illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, prove to be ineffectual);
  • developing national allocations including a position for establishing Australia's claim for catch of key species;
  • establishing a regime to protect ecologically related species, tuna spawning stock and spawning grounds from unsustainable fishing pressures; and
  • ensuring fishing practices, such as fish aggregating devices, are thoroughly evaluated and if determined to be unsustainable, phased out.

Recommendation 6: AFMA to ensure that the observer program is implemented, meets domestic and international data and management needs and is capable of providing the required information at a statistically robust level, including:

  • validation fo target and by-product catch information for use in research, particularly stock assessments, and management decision making, including each rates;
  • collection of data on bycatch, protected species interactions and ecosystem impacts of fishing operations; including whenever possible information on the life status of all bycatch, by-product and protected species discarded; and
  • collection of information on the impact of emerging technologies on fishing sustainability (eg the use of light sticks, circle hooks, bait types).

Recommendation 7: AFMA to monitor the impact of technological advancements in the fishery on the ecological sustainability of target species, by-product and bycatch, and incorporate any mitigation measures into management, particularly stock assessments and setting of the Total Allowable Commercial Catch.

Recommendation 8: AFMA to implement the Tuna and Billfish Longline and Minor Line Bycatch Action Plan (Longline Fishery BAP) as required under the Western 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 and the White Shark (Carchardon 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 9: AFMA to monitor the compliance of industry with their codes of practice and, where necessary and appropriate, introduce regulatory measures to ensure bycatch is minimised.

Recommendation 10: AFMA to investigate the effectiveness of various measures employed in other longline fisheries (such as circle hooks and mackerel type baits) to reduce the incidental take of protected species, particularly marine turtles, and introduce the requirement to use any that reduce the capture and mortality of protected species.