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DESPITE recent moves by countries such as Peru and Panama to protect marlin and other sportfish, the Gillard Labor Government will ignore scientific advice and protests by gamefishing organisations and allow long-line fleets to catch thousands of tonnes of tuna and billfish off Australia’s east coast over the next 12 months.

As part of a new Total Allowable Commercial Catch system being introduced into the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority is set to allow commercial operators to kill almost 10,000 tonnes of tuna, marlin and broadbill in the period from March 1, 2011, to February 29, 2012.

This is despite scientific advice recommending much lower catch rates and strong protest by recreational fishing groups who say the commercial sector will wipe out stocks of iconic gamefish worth millions to the local economy.

An AFMA committee was meeting on January 24 to approve the new TACC for yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, swordfish, striped marlin and albacore.

The federal fisheries agency is expected to give a green light to the catch of 2655 tonnes of yellowfin and 2000 tonnes of bigeye, although its own Recommended Biological Commercial Catches for yellowfin are set at 1512 tonnes and 734 tonnes for bigeye.

If the TACCs are approved – and pundits Marine Business has spoken with indicate they will be – then AFMA’s refusal to heed its own scientific advice means that commercial boats will be taking more than 2400 tonnes of tuna – or about 60,000 fish of 40 kilos each - than government scientists say is sustainable.

Sources say AFMA will also approve the catch of 1550 tonnes of swordfish, 400 tonnes of striped marlin and 3000 tonnes of albacore. The RBCC for swordfish is 1331 tonnes, while the maximum catch of striped marlin is 362 tonnes. Albacore, which are described as “an under utilised resource” on the AFMA website, have a scientifically recommended catch of 2012 tonnes.

Under the AFMA proposal, commercial operators will this year be able to catch almost 4000 striped marlin of 80 kilos each (and discard unknown numbers of dead and dying blue and black marlin caught as bycatch) and 300,000 10 kilo albacore, as well as the 60,000 yellowfin and bigeye tuna.

Marine Business understands that a joint submission from Recfish and the Game Fishing Association of Australia (GFAA), and submissions from the NSW Game Fishing Association and NSW Fisheries have been sent to AFMA outlining concerns about the new TACCs, especially in regard to the commercial catch of striped marlin and associated bycatch of “protected” black and blue marlin. The Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee, which is responsible for the ETBF, has said that it “notes the concerns of recreational groups about the setting of some TACCs”.

The full AFMA report can be found at http://www.afma.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Item-3-Tropical-Tuna-Mac-4-18-January-2011.pdf.

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