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Southern Bluefin Tuna

Portland fish cleaning tables

Watch live footage from the fish cleaning tables at Portland to see what is being landed right now.

Southern bluefin tunaA man with a fishing rod preparing for a catch.

Fishing for southern bluefin tuna (SBT) in south western Victoria is a popular sport , which is re-establishing as tuna stocks re-build.

During one weekend in May 2010, field surveys by Fisheries staff recorded more than 500 boats setting out to catch tuna near Portland, Port Fairy and Warrnambool.

Recreational fishers travel from all over Victoria and interstate to fish for SBT, which brings significant economic benefits to the region.

SBT are:

  • A pelagic fish, which occur in oceanic waters normally on the seaward side of the continental shelf
  • A big and powerful fish that can grow to approximately 2.25 metres and 200 kilograms
  • Mature at 8-12 years old and live up to 40 years.
  • Highly migratory - SBT migrate along the west coast of Australia and across the Great Australian Bight and around Tasmania, then along the southeast Australian coastline to northern NSW.
  • One single population worldwide. The only spawning ground is between Australia and the island of Java in the Indonesian archipelago. SBT are vulnerable to overexploitation.

Global history

Southern bluefin tuna were over fished globally. The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) has implemented a management strategy to set international quotas to allow commercial fishing to continue and significantly re-build SBT stocks.

Australia's annual SBT allocation for commercial fishing complies with the new international catch limits.

Australian perspectiveClose up of a bluefin tuna

In Australia, the SBT commercial fishery is managed by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority using output controls called Individual Transferable Quotas. For the 2011 season, the Australian commercial catch limit was set at 4015 tonnes.

There is no formal allocation of SBT quota for the recreational fishery in Australia. Individual angler catches are restricted by State fisheries regulations.

Victorian Requirements

There is a world class off-shore game fishery for SBT off the south west Victorian coast between Portland and Apollo Bay. This fishery has captivated anglers who enjoy high quality game fishing.

Fisheries Victoria has initiated several actions to ensure that recreational fishing for SBT off our coast is sustainable and provides a strong future for business opportunities and jobs in regional Victoria, including:

Applying a conservative daily bag limit of 2 SBT

  • Enforcing a requirement to land SBT as a whole carcass – this is necessary to prevent illegal fishers taking more than the daily bag limit by mixing SBT fillets with other tuna species
  • Declaring SBT as a ‘priority species’ under the Fisheries Act 1995, which means that strong jail terms and large fines apply  for illegal commercial fishing
  • Conducting uniformed and plain clothed fisheries patrols
  • Conducting the first major survey to measure the recreational catch of SBT off the southwest Victorian coast (see more information below), and
  • Engaging Deloitte Access Economics to assess the economic benefits of recreational SBT fishing to the Portland economy. 

Most importantly, the Victorian Government has sought assurances from the Commonwealth Government that it will guarantee that recreational fishers can continue to fish for SBT. This is essential to provide the security necessary for local businesses and governments to plan their activities with confidence.

Measuring the catchA man holding up a southern bluefin tuna

In 2011, Fisheries Victoria initiated a study to provide the first quantified estimate of the recreational daytime trailer-boat catch of Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) off the south west Victorian coast.

This study was funded by fishing licence fees and was conducted between March and July 2011 at Apollo Bay, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland.

Information was collected at boat ramps and on charter boats. In addition, experienced and avid SBT anglers were asked to record their fishing activities in a diary.
The total catch in 2011 was estimated to be about 240 tonnes.

All of this information was analysed by Fisheries scientists to produce the following report on the size of the Victorian recreational catch of SBT.