Source: Patterson, H, Larcombe, J, Woodhams, J and Curtotti, R 2020, Fishery status reports 2020, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra. CC BY 4.0.
The fishery continues to be managed in accordance with the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2010, and conservation and management measures mandated by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission of which Australia is a member. The fishery is managed through output controls (Total Allowable Commercial Catches and Individually Transferable Quota’s) and input controls (e.g. limited entry and gear restrictions).
During the period 2019-20 the fishery continued work on the development of harvest strategies for broadbill swordfish and striped marlin and finalised the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Strategy, which describes the operational processes AFMA employs to meet the requirements of the higher level Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2010. Performance criteria detailed in the fishery management plan were met in 2019–20.
Analysis of Performance
Status of stocks
Overall, Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery catches of key commercial species were around 3 per cent higher in 2019 relative to the 2018, although the availability of key target species in the fishery varies between years. A relatively high proportion of the total allowable commercial catches were caught for yellowfin tuna and striped marlin but less so for swordfish and less than half the catch limits set for albacore tuna and bigeye tuna were caught. Domestically, the total allowable commercial catches of all the key commercial species are currently considered to be appropriate and of no concern to the status of these regional stocks.
There are currently three major research projects underway in the fishery. The first aims to use genetic information to assess connectivity between target species in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and the broader Pacific Ocean. The second project aims to investigate oceanographic impacts on the fishery to better understand inter-annual variations in catches, interactions between fishery sectors, connectivity and longer term potential climate change impacts. The third project is looking to update and improve the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Harvest Strategy for Swordfish and Striped Marlin, which is used as the basis for setting total allowable commercial catch for those species.
The Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery is part of the broader Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery managed under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. The most recent Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission assessments for each of the five target stocks indicate that none of these stocks are overfished or subject to overfishing.
An ecological risk assessment for the fishery was completed in mid-2019 and indicates that the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery longline fishery as a whole does not pose a high risk to the ecological sustainability of general bycatch, protected species or by-product species.
Fishery management arrangements
Since July 2015 all boats fishing more than 30 days a year in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery have been required to have a system of cameras and sensors installed to monitor all fishing operations. Footage is recorded when fishing operations are occurring to verify the logbook records. All fishing operations on full time boats are now monitored, with 10 per cent of all longline shots (minimum of one shot per boat, per month) reviewed and compared to the logbook reports. Regular feedback reports are provided to Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery operators to inform them of their reporting performance. Since the implementation of e-monitoring, analyses conducted by ABARES has indicated an improvement in logbook reporting. The improved logbook reporting will enable AFMA to make better risk assessments and better focus resources to minimise the impact of fishing on the marine environment.
Between May and November each year, we also implement a southern bluefin tuna zone in the fishery to help ensure that any southern bluefin tuna caught is covered by quota and to minimise discarding. To enter the zone, Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery operators are required to hold a minimum amount of southern bluefin tuna quota and maintain an operational electronic monitoring system on board. The southern bluefin tuna zone location is reviewed weekly using sea surface temperature maps and industry catch information.
During 2019-20, a project to update and improve the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Harvest Strategy continued and the integrated Fisheries Management Strategy was finalised which updates and combines previous fishery strategies and action plans into a single strategy to operationalise the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2010.
In relation to protected species, an increase in seabird interactions in the southern half of the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery during the 2017–18 and 2018-19 summer seasons resulted in increased management responses. These responses resulted in much fewer seabird interactions in the summer 2019-20 season. AFMA is also continuing to review turtle and marine mammal interaction data to better understand the fisheries interactions with these species.
Compliance by the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery with Conservation and Management Measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is reviewed on an annual basis under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Compliance Monitoring Scheme. In 2018–19, as in previous years, Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery management arrangements were consistent with Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission measures. The Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery is currently undergoing certification from the Marine Stewardship Council for catches of yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, swordfish and albacore.