Southern bluefin tuna protected at last
After many thwarted attempts, Humane Society International (HSI) can finally announce success in having southern bluefin tuna (SBT) formally protected under Australia’s national environment laws as a threatened species.
HSI submitted a nomination for SBT to be protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in December 2006 and Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has just announced that protection will be given.
Previous environment ministers rejected our earlier nominations on grounds HSI considered a cover for concerns over the economic and political fall out of protection for this highly lucrative species, even though the Minister’s own science advisers had previously determined the species to be ‘endangered’.
Even today, SBT has not been listed in the category it qualifies for – critically endangered – because that would put a stop to the commercial exploitation and export of SBT from Australia[i]. The SBT population has been reduced to 4.6% of its unfished biomass. IUCN lists the species as critically endangered.
Instead, Minister Burke has opted for the lesser ‘conservation dependent’ listing which is the lowest protection available for a threatened species and which allows for continued fishing and exports.
“A conservation dependent listing allows for continued SBT fishing but gives the Federal Environment Minister stronger opportunities to intervene in management to ensure recovery. The Minister must ensure SBT does not continue to suffer ‘business as usual’ and that management actions are in place to achieve its recovery’, said Alexia Wellbelove from HSI.
“Scientists have predicted that only a zero catch gives the SBT population a decent chance of recovering to 20% of its unfished biomass in 20 years. The Minister now needs to insist SBT gets this respite from fishing in Australian waters and that Australia works to achieve this internationally at the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT)[ii]”.
Last month, the Minister signed off the export approval which will allow the fishing industry to continue exporting SBT and effectively deflecting management decisions to the CCSBT.
“It is naive to place faith in the CCSBT agreeing to a fishing strategy that will allow SBT to recover when the Commission has repeatedly failed to do this. At its recent annual meeting the CCSBT failed to agree a management procedure, delaying discussions on this by a further year. If parties to the Commission cannot agree on a management procedure in 2011 that will give SBT a strong chance of recovery to 20% of its unfished biomass within a reasonable timeframe, HSI will be calling on the Minister to revoke the export approval” said Alexia Wellbelove.
[i] Amendments to the EPBC Act in 2006 made it possible to list fish in the conservation dependent category even if they qualify for stronger protection under the vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered categories which effectively stop fishing. This is a special provision for fish species so that Ministers afraid of the fall out from the fishing industry can allow for their continued commercial exploitation despite their threatened status. Orange roughy and school shark are other species listed as conservation dependent when their population declines would ordinarily qualify them for stronger protection. All other species should be listed in the category they qualify for.
[ii] Australia has the largest share of the global Total Allowable Catch for SBT at 4015 tones. (Japan 2261t, Korea 859t, Taiwan 859t, New Zealand 709t, Indonesia 651t, Philippines 45t, Sth Africa 40t, EU 10t)