A fishing season for a high value sea cucumber in the Torres Strait has reopened for the first time in twenty years thanks to a concerted conservation and stock restoration effort.
Open season for black teatfish began in 15th May, following decades of work with scientists, traditional fishers and government agencies.
Torres Strait Islanders have exclusive access rights to black teatfish, which is estimated to be worth $380,000 to the local economy. The black teatfish season is expected to be a vital source of income supporting livelihoods and the traditional way of life in the Torres Strait.
Black teatfish are vulnerable to overfishing as they are sedentary and found in inshore waters, making them easy to harvest.
‘The 2023 opening is the culmination of 20 years of effort from PZJA agencies, scientists and Traditional Inhabitants to rebuild the fishery. The 2023 season opening date has been set following advice from a Beche-de-Mer industry workshop, which included 30 participants representing the fishing industry and Native Title interests across the Torres Strait,’ said Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities Mark Furner.
‘The black teatfish season will be monitored by a joint patrol of fisheries officers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to ensure all fishing is in accordance with the rules.’
The Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) accepted advice from the Torres Strait Hand Collectables Resource Assessment Group and Working Group to transition from trial openings to a permanent opening for the first time since 2003.
The PZJA also accepted advice to set a total allowable catch of 20 tonnes for the 2023 season.
Black teatfish caught must be smaller than 25 centimetres, and they must be caught from a boat smaller than 7 metres in length.
The season will close on the date the PZJA determines the total allowable catch is likely to be reached.
‘There are very few examples of sea cucumber species elsewhere in the world that have recovered from being over-fished,’ commented Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt.
‘The commitment of Traditional Inhabitants to support and implement improved management measures has been critical to allowing the species to open for fishing and will see increased economic returns to their communities. The export value of Australian sea cucumbers has risen substantially over the last decade due to declining stock around the world, as well as massive demand from other countries where they are a highly desirable cuisine and eaten for purported health and medicinal benefits.’
Deterring illegal foreign fishing
The Albanese and Palaszczuk Governments are tackling illegal foreign fishing in the Torres Strait, with a successful eight-day joint operation completed. Operation V was conducted in April with the aim of deterring illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone off the tip of Cape York.
‘Protecting fish stocks in the Torres Strait means protecting the way of life and livelihoods of Torres Strait Islanders,’ said Member for Cook Cynthia Lui.
‘The Palaszczuk Government has put in place tough laws to ensure Queensland fish stocks are protected for our children and our grandchildren.’
The operation was the first international, multi-agency patrol of the Torres Strait led by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), alongside the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol (QBFP), Queensland Police Service (QPS), Maritime Border Command, Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Papua New Guinea National Fisheries Authority (PNG NFA).
QBFP flagship vessel KI Ross, ABF’s fast response vessel, Maritime Border Command’s aerial surveillance capability, and a PNG NFA patrol vessel were all involved in Operation V.
The operation provided an increased enforcement presence and strong deterrent to illegal fishers operating in the region. The patrol engaged with a range of fishers, including PNG Treaty villagers undertaking traditional fishing in line with the Torres Strait Treaty, and inspections of local fishers.
Australia has a long history of working with the PNG NFA to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in Australian waters, ensuring fish stocks throughout the Torres Strait are managed sustainably and maritime security is maintained.
‘Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a major contributor to global overfishing, which threatens marine ecosystems and puts food security and regional stability at risk. It is also linked to human rights violations and organised crime. The Albanese Government is committed to combating IUU fishing in the Torres Strait through a comprehensive, multifaceted approach that includes direct domestic and international action, and bilateral, regional, and global cooperation,’ Murray Watt commented.
‘All PNG and Australian vessels boarded during the operation were found to be fishing legally. The fact that illegal vessels avoided the area highlights the strength of this high visibility operation in deterring illegal inclusions, particularly through the presence of both Australian and PNG authorities.’