Tuna Australia drives Southern Bluefin Tuna MSC certification for sustainable fisheries

Tuna Australia drives Southern Bluefin Tuna MSC certification for sustainable fisheries

Efforts are underway to secure Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) in recognition of the fishery's sustainability.

Tuna Australia is spearheading this initiative through a project part funded by the Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC).

"Achieving MSC certification for SBT will demonstrate the fishery is sustainable and allow local fishing businesses to open up new domestic and international markets previously inaccessible,” stated Tuna Australia CEO David Ellis.

“This is a fantastic initiative that will enhance national and international resilience."

Tuna Australia holds MSC certification for four of its five target fish species in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery, covering Yellowfin Tuna, Bigeye Tuna, Albacore Tuna, and Broadbill Swordfish, achieved in August 2020.

Southern Bluefin Tuna will be the final Commonwealth tuna species to be MSC certified, setting a global benchmark for sustainable fishery management."

Pre-assessment driven by industry

Southern bluefin tuna. Photo by Paul Lavalle.

The Tuna Australia Board initiated the process to obtain MSC certification for SBT, responding to global demand for independently verified, sustainably caught SBT.

"The MSC certification will serve as a third-party endorsement, confirming that our fishers’ operations work to protect and conserve SBT stocks as a sustainable resource for future generations," explained Tuna Australia Chair Ian Cartwright.

Tuna Australia members currently catch an estimated 1,350 tons of SBT per year.

Earning the blue fish tick will enable our members to access new markets in Asia and North America, generating millions of dollars in extra income and export revenue."

Remarkable stock rebound for SBT

In 2009, SBT was severely depleted, with the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) assessing its spawning biomass at five percent.

Global conservation efforts since then have contributed to a remarkable stock rebound. The latest assessment in 2023 estimated the current spawning biomass at 23 percent, but as high as 29% - an incredible story of sound fishery management.

“It is immensely pleasing to see the stock recovering following the considerable efforts of industry and international cooperation through CCSBT,” said Wez Norris, CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

Achieving MSC certification will positively influence perceptions of SBT as a sustainable, well-managed fish stock.”

The MSC certification will have far-reaching impacts, benefiting statutory fishing rights owners, holders, and fishing and processing companies.

Over the last three decades, FRDC has funded numerous scientific research projects that have shaped management decisions on rebuilding and securing SBT stocks.

“Securing MSC certification would therefore be a testament to the value of this science and to Australia’s world-class management of SBT,” said Dr Patrick Hone, Managing Director, FRDC.

MSC certification shows sustainability commitment

Southern bluefin tuna. Photo by Paul Lavalle.

Bio.inspecta, a global conformity assessment body (CAB), is conducting the pre-assessment.

“The pre-assessment involves analysis of the fishery against key principles of the MSC Standard in collaboration with fisheries scientists, government officials, and industry stakeholders,” said Phil Ravanello, Program Manager, Tuna Australia.

"The CAB will scrutinise every aspect of our fishing operations, ensuring we meet the highest sustainability standards as determined by MSC."

The pre-assessment report will be completed by August 2024 and will inform the next certification steps. The CAB’s full assessment of SBT against the MSC Standard is expected in late 2024.

For industry veterans like third-generation fisher Paul Lavalle, MSC certification is a significant milestone.

Achieving MSC certification is about responsible stewardship – leaving a legacy for the next generation of family fishermen, ensuring SBT thrives for years to come."