Southern and Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery

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

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

Our reference: 2002/6975

Dear Minister

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

The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (WTBF) has been strategically assessed for the purposes of Part 10 of the EPBC Act, including against the Terms of Reference - Environmental Assessment of the Southern and Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery and the Australian Government Guidelines for the Ecologically Sustainable Management of Fisheries (the Guidelines).  The fishery was also assessed against the wildlife trade provisions of Part 13A of the of the EPBC Act and the protected species provision of  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 WTBF 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:

I am satisfied that actions taken in accordance with the management plan for the WTBF 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 WTBF 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 WTBF 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 WTBF Management Plan 2005, for assessment under the EPBC Act.

Being satisfied that the management arrangements for the WTBF 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 WTBF Management Plan on 19 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.

I would like to confirm that on 30 November 2004 the Minister amended the List of Exempt Native Specimens under section 303DC of the EPBC Act to include product from the WTBF for a period of 5 years.  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 Mr Tony Rundle, AFMA Chair.

Yours sincerely


Andrew McNee
Delegate of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage

14 April 2006

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

Attachment A

Recommendations relating to 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 of 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 of performance criteria.

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.

Recommendation 5
DAFF 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:

  • developing management options that address concerns of the IOTC Scientific Committee on key target species;
  • take measures to improve controls over illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing;
  • 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 key species (with a priority for big eye tuna (Thunnus obesus) which is subject to overfishing);
  • developing national allocations including a position for establishing Australia’s claim for catch of key species;
  • establishing a regime to protect ecologically related species 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 of target and by-product catch information for use in research, particularly stock assessments, and management decision making, including catch rates;
  • collection of data on bycatch, protected species interactions and ecosystem impacts of fishing operations; including wherever 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 as necessary and take account of the impacts of technological advancements in stock assessment and setting 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 (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 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.