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  • Over 85% of the world's fisheries are now over-fished or fished to full capacity

    Over 85% of the world's fisheries are now over-fished or fished to full capacity

Southern bluefin tuna

If ever there was a fish that best represented all that is wrong with the way we fish, the southern bluefin tuna would win the dubious award.

Southern bluefin tuna. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy WilderAn ocean giant, southern bluefin tuna, has one of the longest migrations of any creature on the planet – spawning only in the Indian Ocean near Java, and navigating the southern hemisphere’s seas before reaching our shores.

While there are a number of different species of tuna, southern bluefins are one of the most popular to eat. With bluefin tunas selling for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for an individual fish, and the Australian southern bluefin tuna industry worth over $100 million annually1, the pressure is on for this critically endangered fish.

Southern bluefin tuna are classified as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN’s Red List of threatened species, which means it ‘faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild’. Population levels are down to around 5% of original levels, yet fishing continues.

Southern bluefins are managed by a collaboration of nations. Because of their vast migration route, different countries pick off the fish as they come within reach of a coastline. The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) allocates what each nation can take from the stock, and Australia currently has access to around 4,200 tonnes of fish per year2.

Bizarrely, if the southern bluefin tuna fishery were managed under Australian regulation and legislation, there would be no targeted fishery. However, as it’s managed by an external authority, Australia profits from fishing for a species on the brink of extinction.

Tuna for sale in a Japanese fish market. Photo by Mike Markovina/Marine Photobank.The overwhelming majority (more than 95% of those caught) are fished as juveniles in the Great Australian Bight before being fattened up in sea cages and exported to Japan.

Targeting large numbers of juvenile, pre-spawning fish means flat-lining the possibility of re-building the stock.

Recreational fishers also target southern bluefin tuna. In 2012, the Victorian Government published the first estimate of recreational take – they found that in a five-month period in 2011, around 19,700 fish were caught and retained, which is about 240 tonnes of fish3. Technically, this catch should be included in the total amount of fish the whole of Australia is allowed to extract by CCSBT; practically, it remains to be seen how Australia will justify catching over its allocation.


ABARES 2011, Australian fisheries statistics 2010, Canberra, August.