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Marine Fish      

Marine Conservation

Marine Fish

Through ongoing campaign efforts spanning many years, HSI has pursued greater protection for a number of key marine fish species including Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT), Eastern Gemfish, Orange Roughy, and Patagonian toothfish, through various domestic and international legal channels.

Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT)

Species Profile

With striking good looks, living for up to 40 years, weighing as much as 200 kilograms, measuring two metres in length, and swimming at speeds of up to 70km/h, the southern bluefin tuna is an extraordinary fish.

The southern bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species and is considered to form a single global population. It travels thousands of kilometres from spawning grounds south of Indonesia along the west coast of Australia. It then continues either east along the south coast of Australia and into waters of Tasmania, New South Wales and New Zealand, or west across the Indian Ocean towards South Africa and on into the Atlantic Ocean.

Peak spawning occurs from September to April. Adults spawn once a day for several days or weeks before moving on. Larval fish hatch between spring and summer and drift south in warm surface currents. They move, as juveniles, across the coastal surface waters of southern Australia and up the east coast, before shifting offshore to deeper waters at around five years of age. Fish aren' t mature until they reach the age of 10-12 years.

As a top order predator, the southern bluefin tuna plays a critical role in the functioning of marine ecosystems. They are the ocean' s master hunters. Young southern bluefin tuna are also a food source for sharks, seabirds, orcas and other tuna.

Sadly, several features of this magnificent ocean traveller, such as its long life span and late age of maturity, combined with the high prices it fetches for high grade sashimi, make it very vulnerable to overfishing.

SBT is under fishing pressure at all stages of its life cycle. SBT are threatened by overfishing, both in Australian waters and on the high seas. Young fish move southwards from the spawning grounds in the Java Sea and are taken as juveniles by surface fishing in the continental shelf region of Southern Australia. Elsewhere, in the Western South Pacific Ocean, older juveniles and adult SBT are taken by long-lining.

SBT is listed as Critically Endangered (A1d) by the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species.

It is also listed in 2001 as a threatened species on Schedule 1 of the Australian State of Victoria' s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, 1988.

Protection efforts

HSI campaigns to have SBT listed as an endangered species


Eastern Gemfish

Species Profile

Gemfish live in relatively deep water (300 - 600 m) on the upper continental slope off southern Australia and New Zealand. Gemfish are a large, predatory species, which grow to about 1.2 m in length and a weight of about 12 kg. Gemfish grow quickly, reaching a weight of 1 kg after 3 years and about 4 kg at 6 years of age. They mature at 4 - 6 years of age (60 - 70 cm in length), and the majority of fish in the breeding population range from 4 to about 8 years of age. The oldest gemfish aged to date was 17 years, however few fish survive beyond 12 years of age.

Four separate populations of gemfish are recognised. Two populations occur in Australian waters, an eastern stock ranging from Tasmania to northern NSW (which is the subject of this nomination), and a western stock in the Great Australian Bight and WA waters. There are also 2 populations in New Zealand waters - a northern stock which occurs off the north-east coast of NZ and a southern stock which occurs off the western and southern coasts of the south island.

Fish from each stock of gemfish spawn in a short, well defined season each year, and the four stocks are considered to be distinct breeding populations. The eastern Australian stock and the southern/western Australian stock (the Western Stock) are genetically different, with virtually no gene flow or mixing between the two stocks. For fisheries management purposes, these eastern and western populations can be considered to be separate breeding populations.

Gemfish belonging to the eastern Australian stock undertake a pre-spawning migration along the upper continental slope off NSW at a depth of about 400 m. The migration commences in waters off eastern Bass Strait in early June and finishes off the NSW mid north coast in August, when spawning occurs. Prior to spawning the mature fish aggregate into schools near the seabed, and the available information indicates that at this time gemfish are very vulnerable to capture using demersal trawl nets and droplines. Further information available here.

Protection efforts

Orange Roughy

Species Profile

Orange roughy is a species that occurs in deep slope waters at depths of 500-1 400m and is long living, with some individuals reaching 150 years of age. The species occurs in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is a slow growing fish, maturing as late as twenty to thirty years of age. Fecundity is low, rarely exceeding 90 000 eggs per female. Not all mature females breed each year: 26% in 1988 and 42% in 1989. Orange roughy was first caught off Tasmania in 1981 but only became commercially important after major aggregations were discovered in 1986. In recent years major orange roughy fisheries have developed in countries other than Australia. In 2001 the top five (by tonnage) orange roughy importers to the United States were New Zealand, China, Namibia, Australia and Chile.

In Australian waters orange roughy stocks have been observed form central New South Wales, southwards around Tasmania and across the Great Australian Bight to the southwest of Western Australia. Stocks of orange roughy that fall within the South East Fishery (SEF) are divided into five management zones: the eastern zone, southern zone, western zone, Cascade Plateau and the remote zone. The South Tasman Rise is located due south of Tasmania, and is a submerged plateau rising to depths of just under 1000m. The South Tasman Rise fishery straddles the Australian Fishing Zone. As a result part of the fishery is within the remote zone orange roughy management area of the SEF and the remainder is in international waters.

Protection efforts

Patagonian Toothfish

Species Profile

There are two species of toothfish: Antarctic toothfish, found largely on continental shelves adjacent to the coastline of the Antarctic continent; and Patagonian toothfish, found on shelves throughout the Southern Ocean, mainly around sub-Antarctic islands, and off southern Chile and Argentina (hence its name ' ˜Patagonian' ). Over the last fifteen years, Patagonian toothfish stocks have been subject to periods of intense over-exploitation from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that posed an existential threat not only to the commercial viability of toothfish stocks but also to the very survival of Southern Ocean albatross populations.

In recent years, however, in a remarkable triumph for the collective management of regional marine resources by the international community, IUU fishing has been contained to levels that not only allow the recovery of over-exploited stocks but also the maintenance of healthy stocks. At the same time, incidental mortality of albatrosses and petrels caused by longline fishing has been reduced to minimal levels not only by the suppression of IUU fishing but also by the introduction of an effective suite of conservation measures promptly imposed upon and effectively complied with by licenced fishers in the various toothfish fisheries scattered throughout the Southern Ocean.

These toothfish stock management arrangements are the responsibility of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a regional body with a mandate to conserve the marine living resources of the Southern Ocean from a science-based, ecosystem-based management perspective ' “ a very progressive approach to fisheries management when originally introduced in the early 1980s.

CCAMLR invented the term ' ˜IUU fishing' to describe the complicated multi-jurisdictional problem it faced in confronting systematic and organised poaching. A key innovation in that fight against IUU fishing for toothfish was the introduction of the world' s first catch documentation scheme for toothfish in trade, making it hard for fish caught from unlicensed vessels to be sold into markets, especially when the scheme became based on electronic documentation. The remarkable success in saving both toothfish stocks, and reducing albatross deaths can be attributable to a remarkable degree of collaboration between governments, industry and conservationists. The licenced fishing industry is now progressively securing Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for its operations while conservationists are turning their attention to tuna fishers in waters to the north in defence of albatrosses still under threat from longlining.  Conservation and Management efforts through CCAMLR

Past Protection efforts

In 2002, the Australian Government pursued listing for the Toothfish under Appendix II of CITES. While the nomination failed, the attempt drew wide attention not only to the dangers posed to toothfish stocks but also to the problems of IUU fishing more broadly. HSI' s June 2002 media release describes the situation at the time - See  Toothfish nominated for International protection

Web: AndreasLustig.com