Forecasting of tuna habitat
Seasonal forecasting of tuna habitat in the Great Australian Bight
Commercial fishing involves locating fish in a variable environment, and a fisher’s historical experience with environmental conditions and the influence on fish distribution underpins their economic efficiency. However, in many regions, changing environments are reducing the utility of this experience. In the Great Australian Bight, recent environmental changes have modified the summer distribution of southern bluefin tuna (SBT, Thunnus maccoyii). This has affected the timing and location of fishing activity and contributed to economic pressure, at the same time as international competition is lowering value of the catch. The SBT purse-seine fishery is managed under a strict quota, so catching more fish is not an option to reduce fixed costs; instead fish must be caught more efficiently in a changing environment. Following discussion with industry stakeholders, we developed a seasonal forecast system based on a three stage process.
We first assessed needs through discussions with industry. We then developed and validated a SBT habitat forecast system based on a seasonal environmental forecasting model (POAMA: the Predictive Ocean Atmosphere Model for Australia) coupled with a habitat preference model for SBT (developed using data from tagged fish). Based on historical validation, temperature-based habitat forecasts had useful skill up to two months into the future during the months of interest.
The final stage involved forecast delivery via an industry-specific website and engagement with stakeholders, which led to improved presentation and contextualization of the forecasts. The forecasts, which are updated daily, are now being used by SBT fishers and have proven a useful aid in their decision-making in a region where historical experience is becoming less valuable due to environmental change.