You are here

The Australian Government has decided not to support a global ban on the trade of the northern variety of the bluefin tuna.

With northern bluefin populations falling dramatically, a proposal by Monaco to prohibit sale under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has won US support, but not Australia's. 

The Atlantic, or northern bluefin tuna has lost 72 per cent to 82 per cent of its original stock is under pressure also from illegal or unregulated fishing for the sashimi trade.

(Photo: Northern Bluefin or Thunnus thynnus)

Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Taiwanese Bluefin tuna fleets use long line fishing which results in the incidental deaths of thousands of seabirds, particularly petrels and albatross.

However, the Australian Government has decided not to support a global ban on the trade of the northern variety of the bluefin tuna. Instead, the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, has decided to support stronger trade control measures and fisheries management.
Japan, the biggest consumer of the fish, has indicated it may not honour the ban on northern blue fin tuna.  Japan says that bluefin is not facing extinction, but acknowledges that recent rates of exploitation are probably not sustainable.  Sushi is a popular dish in Japan, where fatty bluefin – called o-toro – sells for as much as 2,000 yen (£13) apiece in high-end Tokyo restaurants.  The solution, they insist, is stricter management of fisheries, which have consistently exceeded their own quotas.  They feel their "culture is under threat" - a culture of poaching, bullying and powerful lobbying!

The trade ban would allow individual countries to continue to catch atlantic bluefin tuna for domestic consumption.   Imports from the East Atlantic and Mediterranean, which could be completely shut down by the threatened ban, would reduce Japan's sources of bluefin tuna by about 20 per cent.

(photo: Northern Bluefin)

The northern bluefin fishery has a poor record of compliance with control measures, and Japan  consumes  up to 80% of the world's tuna.  Japan holds the line on whaling and they are also sending a signal that limits on bluefin tuna aren't up for debate either.

 Southern bluefin tuna stocks have also been fished to even more dangerously low levels.  Southern bluefin tuna has long been considered endangered and overfished, yet the Australian Government had not reduced the quota given to the Australian southern bluefin tuna industry since 1989.

The Southern Bluefin Tuna is one of the sea's most impressive creatures. A beautiful and powerful fish, it is well suited to a long life endlessly swimming the open seas.  An adult Bluefin grows to around 200 kg and over 200 cm long. Its close relative, the Northern Bluefin Tuna, Thunnus thynnus, can grow to a massive 700 kg.

Glenn Slant, global marine program leader for TRAFFIC, a program of WWF, put the situation more bluntly last year: The southern bluefin tuna is at an all-time low, below 10 per cent of its original population size, and what that means is at any time it could collapse.

Our Government supports Japan's illegal whaling through non-action, and now they will be supporting their on-going cultural pursuit of tuna-based sushi eating  through non-action and compliance. 

The Australian Government continues to sanction fishing of southern bluefin tuna and perhaps is making this decision to block the protection of northern bluefin because it fears embarrassment that we continue to allow fishing of a critically endangered species in our own neighbouring waters. 

Every indication is that the Bluefin Tuna population is crashing toward extinction, said Felicity Wade from The Wilderness Society last October. While it is heartening to see governments finally acting on its plight, the 20% international cut is inadequate for the crisis the blue fin tuna is facing. Australia had the largest quota reduction .

If we were serious about bringing this fish back from the brink, concluded Ms Wade, the fishery would be completely closed while populations recovered.

Sea Shepherd plans to oppose illegal bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean region and will employ the same hard-line tactics it uses against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic waters, Paul Watson said.

The decision by Peter Garrett, and Japan, makes mockery of "fisheries management" and principles of "sustainability". 


Why can't the Japanese farm tuna like salmon?

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is proposed by CITES for inclusion in its Appendix 'Species threatened with extinction' - mandating trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Under CITES COP15 Monaco on 14-Dec-09 proposed Thunnus thynnus be included in Appendix I (Proposal 19).

"The species is found in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, in waters down to a depth of around 200 m.

The proponent demonstrates that the species is certainly affected by trade and claims, in paragraph 15 of its summary, that the species qualifies under two of the biological criteria for inclusion in Appendix I:

– The wild population is small, with a majority of individuals being concentrated geographically during feeding and spawning and has a high vulnerability to intrinsic factors (behavioural factors, specifically migration and aggregating behaviour)

– A marked decline in the population size in the wild which has been observed as ongoing or having occurred in the past (but with a potential to resume) or is inferred or projected on the basis of levels or patterns of exploitation, high vulnerability to intrinsic factors and (for the west stock only) decreasing recruitment.

With respect to the former, however, population size information is only provided for part of the range: the Mediterranean Sea – where the genetically effective population size is given as 400-700 individuals, although the supporting statement does not indicate the total size of this population."

Japan's Objection

Japan has objected to the inclusion of Atlantic Bluefin Tune in Appendix I for the following reasons:

1. The stock condition of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna does not meet the criteria for CITES Appendix I listing and the species is not threatened with extinction.

a) Monaco’s proposal assumes that the spawning biomass stock of the east Atlantic Bluefin Tuna will decline to 18% of the 1970 level, which is claimed to meet the criteria for Appendix I listing. However, this assumption has already lost ground, since the 2007 level fishing mortalities (i.e., total allowable catch (TAC) at 29,500 metric tons), which the assumption is based on, can no longer be applied as a valid figure, now that ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), an international body in charge of management of this species, adopted the following measures at its 2009 annual meeting last November:

i) The measures in 2010
- Reduction of TAC down to 13,500
This is equivalent to a 40% reduction from the previous year’s TAC level, and a 54% reduction from the above-mentioned TAC of 29,500 metric tons in 2007.
- Reduction of the allowable fishing period by 50% (from 2 months to 1 month) in the Mediterranean for purse seine fisheries
Reduction of over-capacity of fishing vessels by 25%.
CoP15 Doc. 68 Annex 2 – p. 34

ii) The measures in 2011 and thereafter
- All the fisheries on the species shall be suspended if the scientific committee of ICCAT detects a serious threat of fishery collapse.
- A three-year recovery plan will be established with the goal of achieving the spawning stock biomass which will provide a maximum sustainable yield through 2022 with at least a 60% probability.
- Continued reduction of over-capacity.

b) Although Monaco’s proposal claims that the stock of western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna continues at a level of approximately 15-18% of its pre-exploitation biomass, the Scientific Committee of ICCAT demonstrates that the stock will recover if the measures agreed upon at the ICCAT in 2008 are implemented.

c) It should be noted that there was no consensus on the listing of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the Appendix I at the FAO expert meeting held in December 2009.

2. Conservation and management of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna should be implemented within the framework of ICCAT.

a) For the purpose of the sustainable use of fishery resources, trade restrictions alone are not an effective tool, and the resource management of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna should be left to ICCAT, which can appropriately take comprehensive measures, from catch through trade. For sustainable use of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, ICCAT is the most effective organization.

b) Now we are in a situation in which measures taken by ICCAT should be more respected and prioritized, as the strengthened management measures, as described in 1.(1), were agreed to by consensus in November 2009 at the annual meeting of ICCAT.

3. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is not species to be effectively addressed by CITES, and its listing in Appendix I would result in various negative effects, including an increased burden at market and confusion in trade and distribution, caused by complication and intricacy of process.

a) Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is not the type of species that can be effectively addressed by CITES, for the following reasons:

i) It is estimated that the absolute number of spawning stock biomass of the East Atlantic solely is about a million, which is much above the number of other species listed in CITES Appendices. The large population is one of the mitigating factors to reduce the risk of the species from being endangered.

ii) The large scale of international trade, exemplified by the fact that annual imports only by Japan are around 20,000 tons, and the wide and various consumption patterns are other elements that distinguish Atlantic Bluefin Tuna from other species on CITES Appendices that can be effectively regulated under CITES.

b) Listing Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on CITES Appendix I should be avoided, as it would eventually result in various negative effects. Tens of thousands of tons of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are traded annually and they are traded in various forms such as fresh and frozen, round and filet as well as in other processed forms. Restrictions of trade, if introduced, would influence a large number of traders and put a heavy burden on them with cumbersome procedures."

So in lay summary, Japan's excuses are:

1. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are not threatened with extinction.

2. The framework of ICCAT is a better authority than CITES to impose rules on trade of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

3. Declaring Atlantic Bluefin Tuna threatened with extinction would cause "negative effects", "confusion in trade".

Recommendation by the CITES Secretariat

"The Secretariat concurs with the majority of the FAO Ad Hoc Expert Advisory Panel, that this species meets the criteria for inclusion in Appendix I. A marked decline in the population size in the wild has been observed as ongoing.

The Secretariat notes that this determination and its consequences differ from the actions of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which, at its 21st regular meeting (9-15 November 2009, Porto de Galinhas, Brazil), considered the conservation status of this species and decided to continue to permit fishing and the international trade that accompanies it.

On the basis of the available information prior to the discussion at CoP15, the Secretariat recommends that this proposal be adopted."

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

THE UN body overseeing commerce in endangered wildlife today rejected a proposal to outlaw international trade in eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna.
European Union nations, whose fleets are most responsible for the overfishing of the bluefin, abstained from voting on the Monaco proposal.
Japan's traditional dish, sushi , is under threat.
Japan, Canada and many poorer nations feared a ban would devastate fishing economies.
Only the United States, Norway and Kenya supported the proposal outright.
Surely, it is the lack of breeding stock that will ultimately devastate the economies of poorer nations, not the lack of trade!
It is assumed that marine resources will just conveniently restock, magically, to fit in with the human-created economic agenda and the cultural preferences of taste buds.

The Japanese to claim sushi is not under threat is akin to saying the sky will fall in. When they get home the Japanese must really laugh at the bullcrap that western countries and organisations believe.

Australia already sells farmed bluefin tuna to Japan for sushi.

"The southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) farmed in Australia is one of two species of bluefin tunas. Its close relative, the northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), is being used to develop tuna farming industries in the Mediterranean, North America and Japan."

Go to Australian Aquaculture Portal

Successive reductions in annual fishing quotas in Australia waters "prompted a move away from canning to value adding through farming. The first experimental farm was established at Port Lincoln in 1991 under a tripartite agreement between the Australian Tuna Boat Owners' Association of Australia, the Japanese Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation, and the South Australian Government. Over the past decade the farmed sector has grown to the point where around 98 per cent of the Australian southern bluefin tuna quota is now farmed.

Farming is undertaken by those operators who have access to part of the Australian quota and who possess the necessary farm lease sites, and the equipment and expertise to catch tuna. There are currently fifteen tuna farms on eighteen sites, which range in size from 20 to 30 hectares.

New areas off Port Lincoln have been opened up from 2003 when there is expected to be twelve farmers operating on twenty-five lease sites."

So all that froth and bubble by Japan at CITES is akin to loggers claiming only 500 year of Eucalytus regnans provide quality woodchips for toilet paper.

Japanese spin is palpable. The 'scientific whaling' crap is more of a con than the Year 2000 bug. The sad thing is that the CITES mob believe them.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

Unfortunately bluefin tuna farming belongs in the same utopia as kangaroo farming, it just doesn't exist. It is very misleading of the tuna industry in Australia to use the word "farming" as every single individual actually comes from the wild, they are just fattened up in large pens until they are big enough for slaughter. Juvenile Bluefin are caught every year to continue this process. The successful breeding of bluefin in captivity is the holy grail for the industry, Despite several reported breakthroughs the goal doesn't appear to be a reality yet. Unfortunately for the northern bluefin tuna it may come a bit too late. With individuals fetching up to $150,000.00 each, the northern bluefin ranching industry in the Mediterranean has ballooned way, way beyond what could be deemed as sustainable.

Isn't bluefin farming a renewable and exclusive from the wild bluefin?
This would mean the wild bluefin are not caught.

Also, the southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) farmed not threatened?
The message is that by farming renewable southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), the endangered northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are protected.

Is this true or am I missiung somnething?

I am not a ocean species expert.
(preferring quiet dark forests, personally)

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

The bluefin that are farmed are all taken from the wild usually as juveniles, this applies for southern and northern bluefin. Southern bluefin juveniles are captured between the north west coast of western Australia and Indonesia, the only known spawning ground for the species. They are then transported in submerged cages to the various "farms" or ranches in Australia where they are fattened up for the market. Debate continues about their status but many believe they should be listed as threatened due to the collapse in their numbers. All bluefin, northern or southern that ends up in the marketplace has been taken from the wild.


Thanks for claifying.

From what you explain, it sounds like bluefin 'farming' is in reality a form of disguised poaching. If so this is a public fraud.

Salmon farming is contained farming of renewable salmon on a site remote from the wild salmon. So in this sense, this form of fish farming is publicly acknowledged as completely separate to wild salmon fishing.

But if as you state, bluefin farming is dependent on wild fishing, then this represents gross misrepresentation and must be exposed and stopped.

What organisation adopts the role of independent public watchdog?


Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

It seems as though the southern bluefin industry is always on the verge of a breakthrough when it comes to successful captive breeding programmes but alas, they always end up dying. In the meantime though, the image of "farming" SBT is maintained and the protected industry continues to be Australia's biggest seafood export. Little wonder then, that in 2005 the the minister for the environment and heritage, senator Ian Campbell refused to include the SBT under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Campbell made this decision despite the Threatened Species Scientific Committee recommending the SBT be listed as endangered..... you wonder why these scientists bother sometimes.

A government report from 2008 released with little fanfare (pg 314 onwards) gives a history of the SBT fishing industry. Sobering stuff.

Peter Garrett is actually considering a policy FOR the environment, but what happens? There are those with commercial interests who don't want it!

Mr Garrett yesterday announced he would "consider" more than 2.4 million square kilometres of ocean, spanning most of Australia's east coast, for marine protection zones. It would spread from Torres Strait to southern NSW. Following consultation with recreational and commercial fishers, conservation groups, scientists and traditional owners, the government will release a draft marine plan early next year.

Once our population grows, so do commercial interests and the demands for jobs and economic benefits. Our natural assets will be more under threat as resources for industries. "Sustainability" can easily just be pushed aside as immediate demands become more prolific, and loggers, energy markets, the fishing industry, land clearing will be the threats that inundate our government Ministers.