The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery is managed by limiting the catch of tuna and billfish species, restricting how many boats can fish and regulating what gear they can use.
The species caught in the fishery are also caught by many other countries. Australia’s catch of tuna and billfish is a very small part of the total catch internationally.
The species targeted by commercial fishers in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery are:
About the fishery
- Fishery facts
- The commercial fishery
- Environmental impacts
- Fishery rules
- Stakeholder engagement
- Fishery publications
- Fishery map
- Compliance & monitoring
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Total fishery value
Longline and minor line (including handline, troll, rod and reel) fishing gear is used in this fishery.
Fishers mainly use longline fishing gear to catch the targeted species. These are very long lengths of fishing line with hooks that hang down and have bait attached. The longlines are set into the water near the surface and catch the fish individually.
Read more about longline.
Read more about minor line.
The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery covers the sea area west from the tip of Cape York in Queensland, around Western Australia, to the border between Victoria and South Australia. Fishing occurs in both the Australian Fishing Zone and adjacent high seas.
Major landing ports
- Fresh product – Australia, United States
- Frozen product – Australia, Japan, United States.
12 month season, beginning on 1 February.
Management of catch
This fishery is managed under a quota system that limits the amount of fish that boats can take. This quota limit is also known as a total allowable commercial catch. Bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, broadbill swordfish and striped marlin are all managed by quota in this fishery. Under this system, each fisher is limited to catching up to the amount of quota that they hold and the whole fishery is limited to the total allowable commercial catch that is set each season. Setting quotas is one of the main methods AFMA uses to ensure these fish species remain sustainable.
Each year the AFMA Commission decides on the allowable catch using information provided by scientists, the fishery manager and industry members. The Tropical Tuna Resource Assessment Group and the Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee recommend to the AFMA Commission what they think the allowable catch should be each season.
A number of sources are used to determine the quota figure. For example, the fishery Harvest Strategy looks at the catch and effort data in the fishery, environmental aspects, stock assessments for the main targeted species in the fishery and other available scientific information.
The total allowable commercial catch for each target species in this fishery is based on the largest amount of catch of a species that can be taken out of the ocean each year without causing a decline in the species survival over time (also known as maximum sustainable yield).
Western tuna and billfish species are also managed internationally. This means their stock status indicates the sustainability for the whole Indian Ocean region. Operators in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery only catch a small part of the total international catch.
The tuna and billfish species caught in this fishery are highly migratory and swim over large distances and between different countries. For this reason, they are also managed internationally.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission is made up of a large number of member countries, of which Australia is a leader. This Commission reviews the catch, effort and scientific information for all countries that are members and discusses rules or management techniques to restrict catch or fishing effort across the Indian Ocean. AFMA has to consider any management by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission when managing the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery.
Licence to fish
To fish in this fishery, fishers need to hold statutory fishing rights that are allocated by AFMA.
Statutory fishing rights allow fishers to fish in the fishery and catch the fish species that are under a quota. The amount of rights an operator holds depends on the amount of quota they are allocated. The number of rights and the amount of quota may change each year.
Statutory fishing rights are transferable between fishers, they may are also be known as individually transferable quotas.
In the fishery there are currently:
- 95 boat statutory fishing rights (2014).
Data about the catch and effort of the fishery is collected from the logbooks that fishers have to fill out for every longline fishing shot. Logbooks record:
- the species and amount caught
- the catch that is discarded
- the catch/release of any protected species and their life status
- the time and location of fishing activities
- the type and amount of gear used.
There are currently no closures in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery. Within the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission area, there is one closure to fishing off the east coast of Africa.
Assessing the sustainable catch
The status of the western tuna and billfish stocks is assessed every three years by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission scientific committee, with contributions from Australian scientists from ABARES and the CSIRO.
As bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, broadbill swordfish and striped marlin are also caught in other countries, these species are assessed at a global level.
Australia (ABARES 2016):
- Bigeye tuna – Not overfished and not subject to overfishing
- Yellowfin tuna – Not overfished but subject to overfishing
- Broadbill swordfish – Not overfished and not subject to overfishing
- Striped marlin – Overfished and subject to overfishing.
Species risk assessments
AFMA regularly monitor the effects fishing activities have on marine species, habitats and communities through ecological risk assessments. The assessment results help to prioritise the management, research, data collection and monitoring needs for the fishery.
After the risk assessment is complete, an ecological risk management strategy is developed to address how AFMA will manage marine species, habitats and communities identified in the assessment as greatly impacted by commercial fishing operations.
Read the most recent assessment and strategy for the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery.
Bycatch work plans
A bycatch and discarding workplan outlines ways to minimise the bycatch of species who are at a high risk of being caught as bycatch in the fishery. These species can include threatened, endangered and protected species, sharks and other non-targeted fish species.
The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery follows the Australian Tuna and Billfish Bycatch and Discard Workplan.
A harvest strategy is used to help determine what the quota should be for the target species of the fishery. Fishing, environmental and economic information is included in the harvest strategy, which helps to monitor and maintain the sustainability of the targeted species.
All harvest strategies are developed in line with the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines.
To export from an Australian commercial fishery, the fishery must be approved as a wildlife trade operation by the Department of the Environment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery has been granted a 5-year List of Exempt Native Specimens exemption, which allows export of fish product from the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery for a period of 5 years until 2019. The Department of Environment has included several recommendations on the exemption and AFMA must adhere to these throughout the length of the exemption.
Read the details of the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery wildlife trade approval and conditions.
Commonwealth marine reserves are areas established under Australian environment law to help conserve the spectacular marine life in our oceans. They allow ecologically sustainable use of our marine resources and provide special places for people to enjoy and appreciate the fantastic diversity of our marine habitats.
Marine reserves are sometimes known as marine protected areas or marine parks and are managed by the Department of the Environment.
More information about marine reserves can be found on the Department of the Environment website.
Fishing in the fishery
Fishers must hold quota statutory fishing rights for all the target species in the fishery as well as a boat statutory fishing right.
Download a copy of the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Arrangements Booklet 2018 for a full description of all fishing requirements.
The management of the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery is also governed by legislation.
The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Management Plan 2010 came into effect in 2005.
Total allowable commercial catch Determination
The Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Total Allowable Commercial Catch Determination 2014 sets the total allowable commercial catch limits for each fishing season. These limits are decided by the AFMA Commission.
Overcatch and undercatch Determination
Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery Overcatch and Undercatch Determination 2015 sets out the the amounts and percentages for each quota species in relation to undercatch and overcatch for each fishing season.
Each fishing season, AFMA officers visit the major fishing ports of the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery. These visits allow AFMA to meet directly with fishers and discuss any concerns they might have and also gain current information on the trends in fishing and catches during the season. This information is useful for the continuing management of the fishery.
Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee
The Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee is the advisory body for the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery. The committee includes representatives from AFMA, industry, scientific agencies, environmental non-government organisations, the recreational/charter fishing sector and state government. Two meetings are held each year to discuss any problems relating to this fishery, review scientific information and develop possible management measures.
See the Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes.
Tropical Tuna Resource Assessment Group
The Tropical Tuna Resource Assessment Group provides research and scientific advice for the fishery. The group is made up of fishery scientists, fishing industry members, an economist, an AFMA representative and recreational fishing representatives.
See the Tropical Tuna Resource Assessment Group webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the group.
Many of the fish species caught by commercial fishers in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery are also caught by recreational fishers. The recreational fishing of these species is managed by the state governments.
AFMA works closely with other government departments, such as the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of the Environment. They help in providing advice and guidance on both domestic and international fisheries issues.
The Australian state governments manage fishing from the Australian coast out to 3 nm. Occasionally there is some overlap in fishing operations between the state and commonwealth jurisdictions and AFMA regularly communicates with the state fisheries agencies to manage any problems.
Representatives from the state fisheries agencies also attend the Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee meetings and provide input and advice.
Environmental non-government organisations
Representatives from environmental non-government organisations attend the Tropical Tuna Management Advisory Committee meetings and provide input and advice.
Australia catches several migratory species such as tuna and billfish. These species are also caught by other countries. There are several regional fisheries management organisations that look after these migratory fish species and Australia works closely with these organisations when managing our fisheries.
Research and data publications
One of the main monitoring methods used by AFMA is onboard scientific observers. These observers are people employed by AFMA to go out on boats and independently record the catch, effort and biological information of each fishing trip.
They take samples from fish, such as the otoliths or ear bones, and use these to determine the age of the fish caught.
Observers also record the length, weight and sex of each fish caught during a trip and report on the other wildlife that may be seen, the weather conditions, the composition of commercial catch fate of species that are caught as bycatch.
Boats in the Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery must carry an AFMA observer when requested by AFMA.
Read more about the Observer program.
A satellite monitoring system called a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), is fitted to every boat in the fishery. This system helps AFMA to monitor vessel position, course and speed. The tracking unit regularly transmits the information through a communications satellite to a station on land. This information is sent by secure internet connection to a database at AFMA.
Read more about our satellite tracking program.
Cameras on fishing boats – electronic monitoring
AFMA has electronic monitoring systems on some fishing boats. These systems have sensors linked to surveillance cameras that record fishing activity, including the catch. These recordings can then be collected and monitored by AFMA. Electronic monitoring helps support monitoring and data collection.
Read more about electronic monitoring of fishing boats.
AFMA fisheries officers regularly inspect fishing boats and fish receivers. They often visit fishing ports and board boats at sea to check that the rules of fishing are being followed.
For more information on AFMA’s compliance program, please see the compliance webpage.