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Prized tuna stocks close to collapse -

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Prized tuna stocks close to collapse

Broadcast: 16/10/2009

Reporter: Suzanne Smith

The Commission for the Conservation of the Southern Bluefin Tuna holds its annual meeting next
week, and Lateline understands that a confidential scientific report will reveal the stock of the
highly prized fish is heading towards a total collapse.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Commission for the Conservation of the Southern Bluefin Tuna holds its
annual meeting next week and Lateline understands that a confidential scientific report will reveal
the stock of the highly-prized fish is heading towards a total collapse. But Australia's tuna
fishermen claim fish stocks are recovering and that there's no need for a moratorium on the fishing
and export of southern blue fin tuna. As Lateline's Suzanne Smith reports, Australia's relationship
with Japan is very much at the centre of the row.

SUZANNE SMITH, REPORTER: The Southern Bluefin Tuna traverses four oceans.

CAMPBELL DAVIS, CSIRO MARINE PROGRAM LEADER: Southern Bluefin Tuna's a rather amazing animal.
There's one known spawning area in the north-east Indian Ocean. The adults mature at about 10 to 12
years old, so they're quite late maturing. They migrate to that area and spawn several times during
the spawning season.

SUZANNE SMITH: But the level of the spawning stock is causing great concern. It's been ravaged by a
combination of over-fishing and illegal fishing.

CAMPBELL DAVIS: As far as we understand at the moment, the biggest threat to Southern Bluefin Tuna
is fishing.

SUZANNE SMITH: A few years ago, the Japanese Government admitted to illegally taking thousands of
tons of tuna over its allowable quota over a 20-year period. It's believed the figure could be as
high as 200,000 tonnes.

Greenpeace is campaigning against illegal fishing in the unregulated high seas - the areas outside
the exclusive economic zones in the Pacific. The environmental group says this Japanese vessel was
caught illegally fishing in the exclusive zone of the Cook Islands just this week and last year
there were other ships from countries like Taiwan.

The rate of fishing is also an issue. This BBC production, Fragile Pacific, shows just how
effective the large persane (phonetic spelling) nets can be in scooping up everything in their
path.

Campbell Davies is on the scientific committee of the Commission for the Conservation of the
Southern Bluefin Tuna.

Next week, South Korea hosts a crucial meeting of the Commission, as confidential scientific data
will be presented to all the member countries. It will decide whether to cut the total allowable
catch of Southern Bluefin Tuna and what each country can take from the sea.

This year, the total allowable catch known as the TAC is expected to come under intense scientific
scrutiny.

CAMPBELL DAVIS: There's concern over the low status of the spawning stock and the Commission will
be receiving new advice from the scientific committee on that status.

SUZANNE SMITH: Lateline understands the scientific data is likely to show a dramatic fall in the
stock, but the Australian Tuna Association questions the science.

BRIAN JEFFRIES, AUSTRALIAN TUNA ASSOCIATION: The stock is recovering. There's no question about
that. And I think what everyone agrees is the stock is not at risk. Where people disagree with is
how quickly the stock needs to recover. While it's fished sustainably in Australian waters under
very strict Australian laws, it's not necessarily fished that way on the high seas.

CAMPBELL DAVIS: With the latest assessment from the 2008 meeting of the scientific committee,
there's no evidence of substantial recovery or rebuilding of the stock.

SUZANNE SMITH: The fishermen and the environmentalists do agree on one thing: the Australian
Government has allowed its relationship with Japan to override tougher action against Japan's
over-fishing, and in particular say they the Australian Government has put coal exports before the
fishing industry.

BRIAN JEFFRIES: The issue is whether they should pay back the 180,000 or 200,000 tonnes they
over-caught. That's going to be obviously a political issue which the Government needs to come to
terms with.

SUZANNE SMITH: The tuna fishermen believe they are paying for Japan's illegal activity and they
warn against the Australian Government agreeing to a cut to fishing quotas at next week's meeting.

BRIAN JEFFRIES: The season's just about to start. We have boats and pontoons in the water already
to catch the fish and farm them and things like that. It's not realistic and that's not going to
happen. The real debate will be in 2011. There's no question about that. And that'll be a big
debate, but it'll be informed by a lot of the data which'll become available in 2010-'11. That's
the best way to run fisheries management, not short-term panic-driven decisions.

SUZANNE SMITH: But Glenn Sant from the Worldwide Fund for Nature, also a delegate to the
Commission, disagrees.

GLENN SANT, TRAFFIC INTERNATIONAL: The Southern Bluefin Tuna is at an all time low. It's below 10
per cent of its original population size. And what that means for the stock is that at any one
time, it could collapse. Last week, the Australian Government released its most recent status
report, and I can tell you there's a lot of red ink in there which represents continued
over-fishing and an over-fished stock.

SUZANNE SMITH: The report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the stock is at precarious
levels. The figures may even be worse than the state of its Northern Hemisphere cousin, the
northern blue fin tuna. The EU is currently considering whether to ban the trade in the stock to
save the species.

SERGI TUDELA, WWF EUROPE: The only solution is to suspend immediately the fishery in the east
Atlantic (inaudible) and west Atlantic as well, and banning the international trade which is the
main driver pushing this species to the brink of extinction.

BRIAN JEFFRIES: Australia is the only country which totally relies on this particular resource.
Other countries can go off and fish other types of fish. Port Lincoln - and there are 5,000 working
families, as they call it, depending on this particular industry.

GLENN SANT: What we'd like to see in Korea is for the commissioners at this meeting to
substantially reduce the overall catch of Southern Bluefin Tuna and consider a temporary zero catch
for the next couple of years. I mean, we really need to make sure that we get SBT back on a firm
footing if we're gonna see recovery of not only the stock, but the industry.

SUZANNE SMITH: An announcement on the Southern Bluefin Tuna is expected at the conclusion of the
Commission meeting next Friday. Suzanne Smith, Lateline.