The future looks bleak for critically endangered Southern Bluefin Tuna, with international talks to conserve its breeding stock breaking down in Japan Thursday (18 October).

Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea have been unable to agree on quotas at the eighth meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT). As a result, no total allowable catch limit has been set.

Southern Bluefin Tuna breeding stock has been reduced from between 745-985,000 tonnes before commercial fishing to approximately 40,000 tonnes in 2000. (1)

Japan looks likely to act unilaterally to increase its 6065 tonne quota, possibly by as much as 500 tonnes.

Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Vanessa Atkinson says "the new science shows there's a risk of further breeding stock declines if current quotas are maintained. If they are increased we could kiss goodbye to Southern Bluefin Tuna".

"The only way to effectively manage such a depleted stock is to suspend the fishery. But at the very least catch levels should not exceed the 11,750 tonne limit agreed to in 1989." Despite the latest stock assessment, science that says at current catch levels there is no chance of Southern Bluefin Tuna breeding stock rebuilding to 1980 levels by 2020 (the Commission's stated conservation goal). Japan says there are more fish out there. Japan says CCSBT members who have made an effort to rebuild stocks should be rewarded with extra quota.

Vanessa Atkinson says that Japan's push for extra quota is untenable and that the Australian government needs to review the way it negotiates with Japan.

"It was always clear to everyone that Japan wouldn't rest until they got more quota, despite all scientific advice that points to a need for restraint," she says. "Japan is more interested in increased catches for its industry than in the recovery of the species. It's not about science anymore, it's about diplomacy."

CCSBT talks have broken down in the past. In 1998 the Australian Government banned Japanese fishing vessels from Australian waters until there was agreement on quotas.

Vanessa Atkinson says the port ban on Japanese fishing vessels should be reinstated. Greenpeace has written to Australian Prime Minister John Howard asking him to bring up the matter with the Japanese Prime Minister at APEC.


NOTES TO EDITORS:

(1) An Integrated Statistical Time series Assessment of the Southern Bluefin Tuna stock based on catch at Age Data, T.Polacheck and A.Preece, CSIRO Marine Research, August 2001 (CCSBT-SC/0108/19).