Tuna is officially threatened


Southern bluefin tuna has finally been listed as a threatened species in Australia, yet tonnes of the fish species are still being hauled from the sea.

Unloading a Southern Bluefin tuna catch in Ulladulla, NSW

Credit: Doug Hazell

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Federal environment minister Tony Burke listed southern bluefin tuna as a conservation dependent species earlier this week.

Found in and around Australian waters, bluefin are now afforded national protection at the lowest level of conservation status possible on the threatened species list.

"I have taken the advice of the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee and listed southern bluefin tuna under the category it was nominated for - conservation dependent," said federal environment minister, Tony Burke.

Alexia Wellbelove from the Humane Society International (HSI) explains that "a conservation dependent listing allows for continued southern bluefin tuna fishing but gives the federal environment minister stronger opportunities to intervene in management to ensure recovery".

"This listing will not prevent or restrict fishing or create additional regulatory burden on the industry. 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," said Burke.

In 2006 HSI filed for protection of southern bluefin tuna under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, but they were knocked back numerous times due to economic and political concerns despite scientific evidence that bluefin was 'critically endangered'.

Listed internationally as a critically endangered species, global conservation management is difficult as they are highly migratory and have a high commercial value. There is now less than eight per cent of a breeding population of bluefin left compared to an unfished population.

"The minister must ensure southern bluefin tuna does not continue to suffer 'business as usual' and that management actions are in place to achieve its recovery', said Wellbelove.

The Australian government has agreed to a global strategy to rebuild bluefin populations, and to reduce the global catch 20 per cent over 2010 and 2011 seasons.

But Wellbelove says that "scientists have predicted that only a zero catch gives the southern bluefin tuna population a decent chance of recovering to 20 per cent of its unfished biomass in 20 years. The minister now needs to insist southern bluefin tuna gets this respite from fishing in Australian waters".