Sustainability of Southern Bluefin Tuna

In early September 2014, the CCSBT Scientific Committee reviewed and re-confirmed the latest data indicated that Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) was recovering strongly (see CCSBT website). The scientists concluded that the SBT was sustainable at even higher catch levels. Based on their model, the Scientific Committee unanimously recommended an increase in the global SBT quota quota from 9,449 tonnes in 2011 to 14,647 tonnes in 2015. The rise in Australia’s quota for 2015 is 472 tonnes.

A Cautious Approach to Increased Catch Quotas

Report from the 17th meeting of the CCSBT Scientific Committee Governments have been cautious and decided to phase in the 3,000 tonnes increase over the three years 2012-2014. The result was an increase of 1,000 tonnes in 2012, another 500 tonnes in 2013 and another 1,000 tonnes rise in 2013. Australian industry supports this cautious approach.

These increases can be recommended by the scientists because of the big quota cuts in 1988, in 2006 and 2009 – and because of the end of the previous over-catch. The fishery is now sustainable because of the major past quota cuts. This now allows the increased quotas to be fully sustainable.

Current Assessments of the Southern Bluefin Tuna – Wild Fishery

The SBT stock is recovering under the CCSBT Management Procedure and is officially classified at 9% of original spawning biomass.

Parallel to the Management Procedure, CSIRO has developed a new DNA matching technology called Close-kin which enables the SBT spawning stock biomass to be measured differently than the current models. The result shows the spawning stock to be at least three (3) times the level calculated by the models. This advance in technology will to lead to close-kin results being gradually incorporated into the SBT stock assessment and the Management Procedure.

The two managers of the SBT wild Fishery in Australia are:

  1. The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) decides each year on the global Southern Bluefin Tuna quota, and then allocates the quota between the participating countries. These are (with the 2014 quota in brackets):
    1. Australia (5,193 tonnes)
    2. Japan (3,403)
    3. Korea and Taiwan (1,045 each)
    4. New Zealand (918)
    5. Indonesia (750)
  2. The Australian Government – including Agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry (DAFF), the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA). DAFF co-ordinates the Australian approach to the CCSBT. SEWPAC administers the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act which constantly assesses the sustainability of Southern Bluefin Tuna under three separate parts of the Environment Act. 


International and national independent assessment

In 2013, the CCSBT commissioned an independent quality assurance consultant, SAI Global, to assess the SBT management system of each CCSBT country. Australia was the first to be assessed (see the SAI Report on Australia – CCSBT-CC/1410/10, August 2014).

The main SAI conclusion is:

“Australia’s SBT management systems have been shown to be effective in terms of CCSBT’s minimum performance requirements, with well-established fisheries legislation, a strong fisheries management regulatory system, and established fisheries reporting and sanctions.”

The SAI Report for Australia was accepted by the CCSBT in October 2014 (see ‘Report of Compliance Committee’).

As well as the very positive report from the external assessment of the Australian fishery, the Commonwealth Department of Environment under the EPBC Act, renewed accreditation for the SBT fishery. This assessment process has very similar criteria to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The EPBC accreditation was renewed in 2013, and again covered in detail the EPBC criteria on the impact on ecosystems (see The accreditation again reiterated that fishing techniques and catching of SBT for ranching, has no ecosystem impact. For the first time, in 2013 the accreditation was extended for three years rather than the previous shorter periods.


Sustainability status of feed supplies for tuna ranching

 The SA sardine fishery remains the major feed source for SBT ranching. The SA sardine fishery is managed in a precautionary way, based on decision rules linked to egg surveys and sardine fish size (length) in the catch. See for the history and management of the sardine fishery.

The 2015 sardine quota has been fixed on 14/10/14 at 38,000 tonnes, compared with 34,000 tonnes in 2014. This is near historical highs – reflecting the very high 2014 egg survey. The fishery is managed by ITQ’s with a maximum 14 licences.

Over 96% of the SA quota is used for SBT ranching feed. Of this, about 80% is fed fresh direct into the pontoons after catching and the balance is fed frozen.

Imported feed is around 15,000 tonnes, largely from California ( The California (West Coast stock) is also managed in a precautionary way (see

More facts about tuna sustainability

FAQs about SBT sustainability

How are Southern Bluefin Tuna caught?

Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) are caught using purse seine in South Australia.

On the east coast of Australia they are caught by pelagic long liners.

In the past SBT were caught using the poling method, but this stopped in the early 1980’s.

Recreational fisherman also catch SBT using rod and reel.

Where are Southern Bluefin Tuna ranched or farmed?

Southern Bluefin Tuna are ranched in the pristine waters of the Lower Spencer Gulf, South Australia.

They are held offshore in pontoons on lease sites, which are between 10km and 40km from Port Lincoln.

Locations of lease sites can be obtained from the Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) public register.

SBT Lease site locations 2013


What do Southern Bluefin Tuna eat?

Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) eat many different kinds of baitfish.

In the ranched environment, approximately 80% of the diet fed to SBT are locally caught Sardines.

Sardines are sustainably harvested from waters in Spencer Gulf and the Great Australian Bight. They are also a natural food source for tuna in the wild.

Sardinops sagax

Australian Sardine Sardinops sagax


Remaining dietary requirements for SBT are met through imported baitfish.

Fish are fed a mixture of frozen and fresh baitfish. Feed may be given to SBT through frozen block feeding, syphoning, bait spinners, shovel or though a shore controlled automated  bait delivery system.