Tuna harvest one of best ever

THIS year's tuna harvest will go down in history as one of the shortest and one of the best.

Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association chief executive officer Brian Jeffriess said the harvest had produced some the best condition quality tuna the industry has seen since farming started in 1992.

He said that was important because the farmed tuna market often preferred a higher fatness (conditioned) fish to differentiate it from the skinnier longline fish.

"There is now much more competition from longline southern bluefin as Japan's catch quota has doubled in recent years," Mr Jeffriess said.

Targeting specific size tuna for the farms was more difficult this year because strong stock recovery has led to a large increase in one to two-year-old fish, which are harder to separate from bigger fish.

Mr Jeffriess said as a result, the fishing for the farms in January/March was later than normal.

He said the average size of fish into the farms was about the same as 2018 but the number of fish into farms was the second highest ever, behind only 2007.

"The final harvest in July/August was possibly the fastest ever due to high productivity and good weather," Mr Jeffriess said.

"The productivity gains are the only way to remain internationally competitive."

He said export prices remained low, and had been "lower for longer" since 2013, but Port Lincoln had been able to adapt.

Mr Jeffriess said the industry was planning for 2020 and 2021-2023, when the stock recovery was likely to lead to a further quota increase.

In late 2020 the federal government will decide on what share Australia gets of the international quota increase.

The government will also decide what share of the quota will be allocated to charter and recreational boats - largely in Victoria and Tasmania.

"History shows that the Port Lincoln community actually bought the quota from government and from Victoria, Tasmania and NSW," Mr Jeffriess said.

"The federal government decision to transfer it back to those states will be hard to take and will inevitably cost Port Lincoln hundreds of jobs every year."