Jane Holroyd

Two marine species, southern bluefin tuna and school shark, have been assessed as overfished in the federal government's first snapshot of Australia's wild-catch fish stocks.

Federal Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig released the 420-page Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks Reports 2012 in Queensland on Tuesday, saying it would provide a more transparent and consistent assessment of fish stocks than previous assessments. The report examines Australia's wild-caught marine species (not freshwater) and does not include farmed stocks.

The 150 stocks assessed represented 49 species most commonly consumed by Australians. A stock of a species may exist in different locations; for example, pink snapper, which can be found in Shark Bay in Western Australia and in the Spencer Gulf in South Australia.

Of the 150 stocks assessed, 98 were found to be sustainable. Eight stocks were found to be in a transitional but recovering phase and three to be in a transitional but depleting phase. The remaining 39 stocks were classified as undefined due to limited or conflicting information.

The report is the culmination of 18 months of research by more than 80 scientists, co-ordinated by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

FRDC executive director Patrick Hone said the report was a world first. "The level of detail in this report has never been seen before," he said.

Dr Hone described the report as a long time coming, saying it represented the first time Australia's eight fisheries jurisdictions (the Commonwealth, six state jurisdictions and the Northern Territory) had agreed on a definition of sustainable stocks.

"The next part was to agree on which stocks to assess; and we've looked at the most popular species that are consumed in Australia."

Dr Hone said the report showed that Australia's wild-catch stocks were largely sustainable and well managed. Referring to the overfished status of southern bluefin tuna and school shark, Dr Hone said practices were improving to ensure stocks returned to sustainable levels.

"We were anticipating those two species would be assessed as overfished. We knew there had been mistakes in management of these particular species in the past. So we've put a stock-rebuilding management program in place and that allows for the stock to actually rebuild while still allowing it to be fished.

"We're now seeing such good signs in the recovery that the catch of bluefin was increased recently."

Dr Hone said some species considered to be overfished such as the orange roughy were not included because they are not widely consumed. He added that not everyone would agree Australia's fisheries were sustainable. "Many [environment] groups believe that sustainability measures should take into account the health of the ecosystems these stocks exist in," he said.

"But we just focused on the stocks; that's what we fish. At the end of the day that's the information that consumers want.

"More and more Australian consumers, retailers and chefs are keen to do the right thing by the environment," Dr Hone said. "We're eating more and more seafood as part of our diet so we need to ensure stocks are sustainable."

Dr Hone said the Key Australian Fish Stocks Reports would be updated every two years and it was hoped that future reports would encompass a growing number of species and stocks.