A BUMPER bluefin tuna run off the South Coast in recent weeks has seen great catches unloaded at Far South Coast fishing ports.
And while the fish are too far offshore for the recreational brigade, the plentiful fish have put a smile on the skippers of the two long-liner vessels based in Narooma and Bermagui.
The Fisco I of Narooma and the Sea Angel of Bermagui each unloaded another 2.5 tonnes each on Thursday morning.
Fisco I skipper Todd Abbott was especially stoked the week before when he landed a huge 160kg barrel of a bluefin tuna that ended up selling for $100 a kilo for a total of $16,000 at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.
Mr Abbott said the Japanese buyers paid top dollar for the fish that was caught around 160km due east of Batemans Bay because of its size and quality.
Much of the catches have made been further north off Jervis Bay and the port of Ulladulla, where up to 100 tonnes of bluefin have been unloaded and exported to Japan over the past three weeks.
When it comes to the local market, the volumes are clear by the old story of supply and demand with the price of bluefin crashing at Sydney markets.
Will Brunker, who describes himself on Twitter as JOTO fresh fishmonger to Australia’s high-end, tweeted: “Crazy volume alright…Lowest floor prices we’ve seen for SBT, I’m talking albacore money!”
Will did say the fish were of excellent quality with great fat content, which is what all sashimi connoisseurs look for.
The fishermen say the bluefin run off the NSW South Coast has just gotten better and better in recent years, thanks to strict management and quota controls that saw local fisherman take the pain of not being able to fish over several previous seasons.
The good news for the local economy, fishing businesses and the co-operatives at Bermagui and Ulladulla is that many of the local boats now leased tuna quota from established Port Lincoln based tuna businesses.
Mr Abbott said he had sufficient quota to continue fishing for the rest of the bluefin season that normally extends as late as November.
That strict management continues with the long-line vessels expected to every fourth trip take out an on-board observer from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.
The Sea Angel this week had an observer on board, who was kept busy monitoring their fishing and also measuring and recording each of their captures.
The fishermen have to pay for these observers themselves, which costs up to $1,100 a day.
There are strict controls on where the long-liners can fish based on how much quota they have.
Areas designated as “core zones” are only open to boats with 1 tonne of quota or more while those fishing “buffer zones” require at least 500 kilos of quota.
The story of recovering bluefin tuna stocks in Australian waters can be juxtaposed to the story of the yellowfin tuna whose future appears far less rosy.
Back when Mr Abbott was growing up the yellowfin were still relatively plentiful off Narooma and the first fish his father exported to Japan was a 100kg yellowfin caught off Montague Island.
Back in those days, the bluefin were the scarce fish and his father was lucky to get a handful of big bluefin on his long-lines all season.
“My old man when he started long-lining 30 years ago didn’t see that many fish and now we are getting more than 200 tonnes a season,” he said.
The yellowfin have been vulnerable to overfishing in Pacific waters with several island nations allowing foreign vessels from China and elsewhere in to pillage the stocks.
“There’s a lot of effort outside of Australian waters,” Mr Abbott said.
The only bad news for the local economy but perhaps good news for the tuna stocks is that the bluefin this year are too far out to be targeted by the recreational brigade.
The bluefin season off Portland, Victoria that attracts hundreds if not thousands of recreational fishers meanwhile is just winding down.
Tackleworld Cranbourne general manager David Kramer said the bluefin season off Victoria had been excellent with school fish back in April averaging 30kg.
“It’s been one of the best seasons ever and certainly the best season for big fish,” he said.
“For two months earlier in the season there were three for four fish over 100kg every week.”
The bluefin season had also been bountiful off Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania, he said.
Mr Abbott who has been around tuna all his life said by June most of the fish had by June made their way past Victoria and when reaching Tasmania, some split off and went to New Zealand while others continued up the East Coast before eventually turning northeast and out into the Pacific Ocean at about Port Stephens.
Bermagui Fishermen’s Wharf co-operative manager Rocky Lagana said it was great that long-liners had for the past few years encountered good catches of bluefin, which created employment and flow-on benefits for small fishing ports such as Bermagui, Narooma and Ulladulla.
“There were three years when they went without quota so it is great after that pain that they are now able to bring home fish and its show how good the Australian fisheries management is,” Mr Lagana said.
“The pleasing thing is how quickly and efficiently the boats have been able to knock these fish over and bring the benefits back to port.”