- Eat Less
Eastern Australia, Western Australia
- Albacore tuna is a migratory species caught by a number of different countries. In Australia, albacore tuna are targeted along the eastern and western coastlines.
- While the stock structure of albacore tuna is complex, scientists have assessed that stocks of albacore tuna caught in Australian fisheries are healthy.
- Video monitoring of fishing boats operating in the tuna fisheries is a welcome advance, improving confidence in fishery log book reports.
- Albacore tuna are caught on longlines that also catch endangered wildlife, such as turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins.
- Reported interactions with turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins have increased significantly in recent years, particularly in the larger eastern fishery, most likely as a result of the introduction of video monitoring in this fishery.
- The number of threatened and protected wildlife caught in the fishery is of increasing concern, and fishery managers would need to put wildlife protection measures in place to retain an Amber rating in future.
- Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (966t in 2017-18)
- Commonwealth Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (30t in 2016)
Albacore tuna is a highly migratory species, fished throughout its range in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. The Amber ‘Eat Less’ ranking is the result of an assessment of the Australian fisheries that catch albacore tuna. The Australian catch of albacore tuna is less than 1% of the total catch in the Western Pacific region, with the vast majority of the catch coming from other countries fishing on the high seas.
The stock structure of albacore tuna is complicated, as there are a number of different stocks in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that are targeted by a range of different countries. Scientists have assessed that the stocks of albacore tuna taken in Australian managed fisheries operating on the eastern and western coastlines are currently healthy.
Albacore tuna are caught using longlines in Australian waters, which also catch a range of threatened species. In previous years, fishery observers undertook independent monitoring of the impact of fishing on endangered wildlife. Video monitoring across the fishing fleet was rolled out in 2015; this welcome progress provides confidence in reporting of wildlife affected by the fishery.
However, video monitoring has identified that fishers in the eastern and western fisheries were significantly under-reporting how much endangered wildlife was killed in the past, which means that the impact of these fisheries is substantially higher than previously thought. Since cameras have been installed on boats, the number of turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins recorded as caught has significantly increased.
In the larger eastern fishery, the catch of turtles in particular has increased over the past decade. In 2017, 194 turtles were caught, compared to the 4-16 that were reported as caught annually in the three years before video monitoring was mandated on the fishing vessels. In previous years, a ‘trigger limit’ was in place which required fishery managers to take action if the rate of turtles caught exceeded a certain level. This trigger limit has since been removed, which means there are no measures in place to cap the number of turtles caught in the tuna fishery.
A similar picture has emerged in seabird and marine mammal bycatch. There were zero seabirds recorded in log-books in 2013, before video cameras were installed, but 34 seabirds were killed in 2017 after camera installation. Similarly, no dolphin or whale deaths were reported in 2013 or 2014, but 7 dolphins and whales were killed in 2017.
Turtles, whales, dolphins and seabirds are at risk from multiple threats, including fishing. Given the small scale of the Australian tuna fishery relative to international tuna fisheries, it is unlikely that this fishery is the major driver of on-going population declines in these endangered wildlife species. The framework in place to manage the fishery is robust, so it is expected the identification of these issues will lead to improvements in the fishery. Increased monitoring of the fishery is a significant improvement, leading to greater transparency and more reliable fishery reporting. However, fishery managers would need to put wildlife protection measures in place to reduce the impact of fishing on these species in order to maintain an Amber ‘ Eat Less’ rating in future.
Commonwealth marine parks, set to be established in 2018, may provide a degree of protection to endangered wildlife. However, it is notable that sectors of the tuna fishing industry sought, and may yet secure, significant reductions in the areas protected from fishing in offshore eastern and western Australian waters.