Southern bluefin tuna quota - it's a crime

Exhibit A. The southern bluefin tuna. It's an incredible species, a top ocean predator, once abundant yet now precariously rare - it's listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. More than 95 per cent of the breeding population has been wiped out by overfishing.

Exhibit B. New Zealand's Ministery of Fisheries. A ministry with so little regard for the future of marine species that it is proposing to increase, for the second time in this 'year of biodiversity', the amount of these critically endangered fish that the local industry can catch.

Earlier this year we alerted you to the Ministry's first proposal to up the catch of southern bluefin - many of you responded with submissions to the Minister of Fisheries to rethink this crazy idea - but he went ahead and approved the increase regardless. The Ministry's new proposal allows for the catch level to be ramped up yet again. They do make a passing mention of the "substantial body of submissions" in opposition to what was proposed in the last quota review, but only in the context of a suggestion that the Minister "may" wish to consider leaving the catch as it is.

The Ministry's proposal doesn't include the option of closing the fishery until the stock is out of the danger zone, or even an option for reducing the catch to below what it was when fisheries scientists warned it had fallen to a critical 4.6 per cent. In fact they don't even mention the words 'critically endangered' or 'risk of extinction' once. This is a damning indictment of how far the Ministry and Minister are out of touch with New Zealanders' views on conservation , and how cozy they are with the fishing industry.

If this were about intentionally killing a kakapo - another native species listed as critically endangered - then the Department of Conservation would be sure to act. But when the critically endangered species in question is a fish, the Government aids and abets the offenders to get a bigger cut of the potential profits.

The ships that catch bluefin tuna - a combination of New Zealand-flagged and Japanese charter vessels - also catch sharks, which are often just finned, before their bodies are dumped overboard (a practice that has been banned in many countries already). Presumably that industry is relying on the outdated notion that there are 'plenty more fish in the sea,' even if we lose bluefin tuna altogether (as has happened in the North Sea, Norwegian Sea and off the coast of Brazil). But bigeye and yellowfin tuna species are now also in trouble, and New Zealand is not supporting our Pacific Island neighbours in their efforts to protect these stocks by creating high seas marine reserves.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement have lodged a proposal to close off areas of high seas in the Pacific to purse seine fishing (which takes the bulk of the tropical tuna catch). New Zealand has remained silent rather than lending its support to this important conservation measure. The idea of banning purse-seine fishing from certain areas will be again up for discussion in December You can send a postcard to the Minister of Fisheries calling on him to support this proposal next month.

For southern bluefin tuna, the fishery must be immediately closed until the stock has recovered to a safe level (which according to scientists is likely to take over a decade, even if fishing is stopped now). You can make a submission on the Ministry of Fisheries' proposal, by clicking here. We'll also post our submission here once we've finished it, to help with points you may want to raise.

It's likely you'll get excuses back from the Ministry about how it's OK for us to catch more bluefin tuna, because other countries are scaling back their catches. But the reductions are only moderate, and to rely on the actions of other countries to save bluefin, while our own industry is allowed to ramp up efforts that could drive this critically endangered species to an early grave, is simply not the kiwi way.