Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer and Trochus fisheries
Chapter 19: Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer and Trochus fisheries
I Butler and AH Steven
|Biological status||Fishing mortality||Biomass||Fishing mortality||Biomass|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Fishery closed. No reported catch in 2019. Last full survey (2009) indicated that stock was recovering.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Catch is below TAC. Last full survey (2009) indicated relatively stable densities.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Overfished||Fishery closed. No reported catch in 2019. Last full survey (2009) indicated that stock was overfished.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Not subject to overfishing||Not overfished||Catch is below TAC. Last full survey (2009) indicated relatively stable densities.|
|Other sea cucumbers (up to 18 species)||Uncertain||Uncertain||Uncertain||Uncertain||Uncertain biomass and fishing mortality status for at least 2 species taken in 2019.|
|Not subject to overfishing||Uncertain||Not subject to overfishing||Uncertain||No catch in 2019. Uncertain biomass status.|
|Economic status||Estimates of NER and gross value of production are unavailable. Despite a decline in catch in 2019, NER are likely positive for this fishery. Increasing opportunities and participation for traditional inhabitants in the fishery are important objectives for this fishery.|
Notes: NER Net economic returns. TAC Total allowable catch.
19.1 Description of the fishery
Both the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery (TSBDMF) and the Torres Strait Trochus Fishery (TSTF) operate in tidal waters within the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ) and south of the TSPZ, in the waters defined as the ‘outside but near area’ (Figure 19.1; AFMA 2011, 2013, 2015).
Bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) has historically been harvested in the eastern parts of Torres Strait, with most of the catch typically taken from the Great North East Channel, Don Cay, Darnley Island, Cumberland Channel and Great Barrier Reef regions. Western Torres Strait is included in the fishery, but is documented as having naturally low abundance of sea cucumbers (AFMA 2013).
Catch of trochus has been low in recent years. In 2005 (a year for which we have a reasonable idea of catch location), most trochus was taken from central-eastern Torres Strait regions, including the Great North East Channel, Darnley Island and Warraber Island (AFMA 2011).
Fishing methods and key species
The main species of sea cucumber harvested are black teatfish (Holothuria whitmaei), prickly redfish (Thelenota ananas), sandfish (H. scabra), white teatfish (H. fuscogilva), surf redfish (Actinopyga mauritiana), deepwater redfish (A. echinites) and other blackfish species (Actinopyga spp.). In recent years, market demand and fishing effort for curryfish species (Stichopus spp.) have increased significantly. Sea cucumbers are collected by hand, usually while free-diving or reef-top walking. Reef walking occurs at low tide along the reef edges. Diving occurs from dinghies, crewed by 2 or 3 fishers. Although the depth range of most targeted species is between 0 and 20 m, a combined ban on hookah (surface-supplied underwater breathing apparatus) and scuba diving limits most fishing effort to a depth of approximately 10 m. Following collection, sea cucumbers are processed for market; typically, this involves gutting, grading, cleaning, boiling and salting. A few operators are also drying the product before sending it to market (AFMA, 2019, pers. comm.).
Trochus (Trochus niloticus) typically occurs on high-energy areas of reefs, on substrates dominated by stony or coral pavements and associated with turf algae (Murphy et al. 2010). Trochus is collected by hand while reef-top walking at low tide, or from reef tops and reef edges while free-diving (without scuba or hookah gear) (AFMA 2011).
No byproduct or bycatch occurs in these fisheries because fishing by hand allows preferred species to be selected. Interactions with protected species are minimal. The only concerns relate to potential physical damage to coral reef structures from walking during collection at low tide (Department of the Environment 2014).
The TSBDMF is managed using various input and output controls. Input controls include limiting participation in the fishery to Traditional Inhabitant Boat (TIB) licence holders, limiting fishers to using vessels no longer than 7 m, restricting trochus harvest to hand fishing using non-mechanical devices, and prohibiting the use of hookah and scuba gear. There is currently no limit on the number of TIB licences that can be issued. The feasibility of using hookah for certain species is being investigated.
Output controls include minimum size limits on 10 species; zero total allowable catch (TAC) for sandfish, black teatfish and surf redfish; and TACs for white teatfish (15 t), prickly redfish (15 t) and other sea cucumber species combined (80 t).
The TSTF is managed using various input and output controls. Input controls include limiting participation in the fishery to TIB licence holders, limiting fishers to using vessels no longer than 20 m, restricting trochus harvest to hand fishing using non-mechanical devices, and prohibiting the use of hookah and scuba gear. There is currently no limit on the number of TIB licences that can be issued. Output controls include minimum (80 mm) and maximum (125 mm) basal diameter size limits, and a TAC of 150 t.
Although the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (HSP; Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018) does not apply to fisheries jointly managed by the Australian Government and other (domestic or international) management agencies, the HSP does represent the government’s preferred approach to management. A new harvest strategy was developed for the TSBDMF in 2019 (AFMA 2019b). The harvest strategy applies a tiered approach with different harvest control rules depending on the type and quality of information available, and rules for reopening closed fisheries. The strategy also includes minimum size limits, options for spatial closures and an ability to accommodate traditional community management initiatives.
Effort in the TSBDMF is currently reflected by the numbers of active TIB fishers reporting catch (previously referred to as ‘sellers’ in the docket book system). In the 2018 published status report for the TSBDMF, the number of receivers was reported for effort instead of number of fishers reporting catch. This statistic has been corrected for 2018 in this report. The number of fishers reporting catch has been increasing in recent years. The number of fishing permits granted in both the TSBDMF and the TSTF was higher in 2019 than in 2018; however, the number of active permits fluctuates throughout the year depending on application/expiry dates (Table 19.2).
Historically, sandfish was a primary target species in the TSBDMF, mostly fished on the Warrior Reefs complex (Figure 19.1). Following a considerable decline in sandfish abundance and the subsequent introduction of a zero TAC in 1998, the species targeted shifted to black teatfish, and what was thought to be surf redfish but is now understood to be primarily deepwater redfish and a number of blackfish species (Skewes et al. 2010).
Catch data from the TSBDMF improved in recent years as a result of a concerted effort by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) in 2017 to follow up on unreported catch and implement a fish receiver system. This process resulted in substantially higher catches being reported for some sea cucumber species in some years.
From 1 December 2017, all operators in Torres Strait fisheries (excluding the Torres Strait Prawn Fishery) have been required to land their catch to a licensed fish receiver (see Chapter 15). The introduction of this system has improved our understanding of commercial harvests and is expected to improve the accuracy of future catch data. The data from fish receivers has continued to improve through 2019 as a result of effort by AFMA to improve the quality and timeliness of reporting. In 2019, AFMA confiscated some illegal catch of sea cucumber (229 kg of white teatfish, 27 kg of prickly redfish and 6 kg of deepwater black fish) from unlicensed fishers or because the fish did not go through licensed receivers. In addition, approximately 1 t of curryfish—a more difficult species to process—had spoiled and was rejected by receivers. Both of these sources of mortality have been incorporated into the catch statistics below.
Total catch for the TSBDMF in 2019 was 37.3 t, down from 64.3 t in 2018, largely as a result of increased targeting of tropical rock lobster and reduced targeting of curryfish (AFMA, 2020, pers. comm.). No catch of trochus was reported in 2019 (Table 19.2).
|Fishery statistics a||2018||2019|
|Other sea cucumber species (18 species)||80||47.8||na||80||23.7||na|
|Total fishery (TSBDMF)||110||61.6||na||110||37.1||na|
|Total fishery (TSTF)||150||0.04||na||150||0||0|
|Effort (no. of sellers)||Bêche-de-mer: 34
|Fishing permits||Bêche-de-mer: 123 b
Trochus: 80 c
|Bêche-de-mer: 138 c
Trochus: 78 c
|Fishing methods||Hand collection—free-dive or reef walking|
|Primary landing ports||Torres Strait Island fish receivers|
|Input controls: limited entry, gear restrictions, vessel length restrictions
Output controls: TACs, size limits
Input controls: limited entry, gear restrictions, vessel length restrictions
Output controls: TACs, size limits
International: Asia—predominantly China, Hong Kong and Singapore
International: historically, markets have included China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States
|Management plan||No formal management plans; however, the bêche-de-mer harvest strategy was formally adopted
by the Protected Zone Joint Authority in November 2019 and will be implemented for the
2020 fishing season.
a Fishery statistics are provided by fishing season, unless otherwise indicated. Fishing season is 1 January – 31 December. Value statistics are by financial year. Reported catch is understood to be gutted wet weight. b As at 1 July 2018. c As at 1 July 2019.
Notes: GVP Gross value of production. na Not available. TAC Total allowable catch.
19.2 Biological status
Black teatfish (Holothuria whitmaei)
Black teatfish in Torres Strait is assumed to represent a single biological stock (T Skewes, CSIRO, 2013, pers. comm.).
The Torres Strait black teatfish stock was last surveyed in 2009 (Skewes et al. 2010). This survey showed increases in the mean density (from fewer than 1 individual per hectare to just over 10 individuals per hectare), mean length (an increase of almost 6%) and mean weight (an increase of more than 11%) of black teatfish compared with the 2005 survey. However, there is considerable uncertainty around these estimates. Because of the increased densities and animal size, Skewes et al. (2010) recommended reopening the fishery for black teatfish with a TAC of 25 t, which would be an extraction rate of about 4% of the lower 90th percentile of the standing stock estimate (estimated at 625 t). A separate study of black teatfish on the Great Barrier Reef had estimated that harvest rates of less than 5% of the virgin biomass were likely to be sustainable (Uthicke, Welch & Benzie 2003).
In November 2011, the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) Hand Collectables Working Group considered options for increasing the zero TAC, taking into account results from the work by Skewes et al. (2010). The working group noted that increasing the TAC would result in increased targeting of this species, which would probably stimulate interest in the fishery. It also acknowledged that a level of precaution was required in developing the fishery to minimise the risks of exceeding the TAC, localised depletion and unsustainable harvest of other species. As a result, the PZJA endorsed a 1-month trial of fishing for black teatfish in 2014 and 2015, operating under a conservative 15 t TAC. Some overcatch was recorded in both years. A zero TAC has been in place since then, pending improvements to catch reporting.
CSIRO surveyed sea cucumbers, including black teatfish, in late 2019 and early 2020, so an updated estimate of biomass is expected to be available later in 2020. Another trial opening of the black teatfish stock may occur later in 2020 as a result of improved catch reporting (AFMA 2019a).
Stock status determination
No catch was reported in 2018 or 2019. On this basis, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing. Given the results of the 2009 survey and the low levels of catch since then, black teatfish is classified as not overfished.
Prickly redfish (Thelenota ananas)
Prickly redfish in Torres Strait is assumed to represent a single biological stock (Tim Skewes [CSIRO], 2013, pers. comm.).
Prickly redfish in Torres Strait is assumed to represent a single biological stock (T Skewes, CSIRO, 2013, pers. comm.).
The Torres Strait prickly redfish stock was last surveyed in 2009 (Skewes et al. 2010). This survey indicated that densities had remained relatively stable across surveys in 1995, 2002, 2005 and 2009, ranging from 1.42 to 2.15 prickly redfish per hectare. The mean size of prickly redfish increased from 2,147 to 2,812 g between 2005 and 2009. Well-established and consistent methodologies were used in the surveys, but considerable uncertainty remains around these estimates.
The TAC for prickly redfish in 2019 (15 t) is based on an estimate of maximum sustainable yield (MSY), using a biomass estimate from the 2002 survey (Skewes et al. 2004). The TAC was reduced from 20 t to 15 t during 2017 due to sustainability concerns coming from previous overfishing and inadequate catch reporting (PZJA 2018). MSY was estimated using a simplified surplus production model that relies on estimates of biomass and natural mortality (M). The surplus production model assumed an MSY of 0.2MB0 (where B0 is the unfished biomass), and used the lower bound of the 90% confidence interval of the 2002 estimate of standing stock (approximately 343 t) as B0. Following the 2002 survey of eastern Torres Strait, Skewes et al. (2004) classified prickly redfish as ‘exploited’ where the population was currently being fished, or had previously been fished, but showed no evidence of severe depletion. The application of meta-rules for calculating the TAC, based on the level of exploitation, led to the MSY estimate being halved, generating a TAC of 20 t. The combination of using the lower bound of the 90% confidence interval for biomass, using a 0.2 scaling factor for natural mortality (instead of the more typical 0.5) and halving the final MSY estimate (to account for previous exploitation) resulted in a TAC that is considered to be conservative.
CSIRO surveyed sea cucumbers, including prickly redfish, in late 2019 and early 2020, so an updated estimate of biomass is expected to be available later in 2020.
Stock status determination
Catches of prickly redfish have been sporadic over recent years. Reported catch has been below the TAC in every year except 2015, when it exceeded 28 t. Catch of prickly redfish decreased from 12.4 t in 2018 to 11.8 t in 2019. Although the data that support the current TAC are close to 15 years old, the average catch since the TAC was calculated has been around 12 t and below the TAC. On this basis, the stock is classified as not overfished and not subject to overfishing.
Sandfish (Holothuria scabra)
Sandfish in Torres Strait is assumed to represent a single biological stock (T Skewes, CSIRO, 2013, pers. comm.).
The Torres Strait sandfish stock was last surveyed in 2010 (Murphy et al. 2011). At that time, survey densities were around 80% lower than in 1995, when the stock was already considered to be depleted. Results from the survey indicated a mean density of 94 ± 50 sandfish per hectare (± standard error [SE]), which was similar to that in 2004 (94 ± 25 sandfish per hectare), suggesting that there had been no recovery up to the time of the 2010 survey. The reason for the lack of observable recovery of sandfish between 1998 and 2010 is not clear, given that the fishery has been closed since 1998. Murphy et al. (2011) suggested several possible causes, including illegal fishing and poor recruitment.
With respect to recruitment, Murphy et al. (2011) hypothesised that the relatively low density of sandfish remaining on Warrior Reefs may have reduced fertilisation success, because remaining sandfish are widely dispersed. They also noted that sandfish can burrow into the sand, making them difficult for survey observers to see (Murphy et al. 2011). However, Murphy et al. (2011) considered it unlikely that the proportion of buried sandfish would have differed from one survey to the next because all surveys sampled the same sites during the same season, lunar phase, tide and time of day, providing confidence in comparability of density estimates between years. Low density estimates in recent surveys are therefore likely to indicate actual low density, rather than underestimates resulting from increased proportions of buried sandfish.
In 2012, CSIRO and AFMA conducted a small-scale experimental fishing survey of the Warrior Reefs sandfish stock (Murphy et al. 2012). Methodology differed significantly from that used in previous surveys. Differences included sampling at different ‘locations’1 from the previous surveys (only 3 previous ‘sites’ were included), walking random search tracks rather than straight-line transects and choosing fishing areas of known high density (see Murphy et al. 2012). Previous survey reports emphasised the importance of sampling at the same sites (at the same lunar phase, tide and time of day) for each survey, to allow repeated measures for statistical analysis of data (for example, Murphy et al. 2010). Given the methodological differences, caution should be used when comparing the 2012 work with previous surveys. Although the findings of the 2012 study indicate that the density, biomass and size frequency of the stock had improved, it is unclear whether these data reflect real improvements in the stock or are artefacts of the different experimental design. The stock status determination provided here therefore continues to rely on the findings of the most recent full-scale sandfish survey (Murphy et al. 2010).
A recent survey of sea cucumbers by CSIRO in late 2019 and early 2020 did not cover the Warrior Reefs complex and so will not provide an update to the biomass of sandfish.
Stock status determination
Sandfish has been subject to a zero TAC since 1998. Illegal catch taken by Papua New Guinea nationals has been reported in previous years, but no such reports have been received since the 2017 to 2018 fishing season (AFMA, 2020, pers. comm.). On this basis, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing. Since no recovery in overall density was observed between 1998 and 2010, and there is no other robust information to inform stock status, the stock remains classified as overfished.
White teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva)
White teatfish in Torres Strait is assumed to represent a single biological stock (T Skewes, CSIRO, 2013, pers. comm.).
The Torres Strait white teatfish stock was last surveyed in 2009 (Skewes et al. 2010). The results of this survey indicated that white teatfish density has remained relatively stable (or possibly increased) since surveys in 1995, 2002 and 2005. Mean density (±SE) increased from 0.47 (±0.20) to 0.85 (±0.43) per hectare between 2005 and 2009 (Skewes et al. 2010). Differences in the density estimates between years were not statistically significant. Between 2005 and 2009, mean weight increased from 2,341 to 2,736 g, and mean length increased from 276 to 296 mm.
The 2009 survey estimated the biomass of white teatfish to be 110 t. The resulting TAC for white teatfish (using the same methods described for prickly redfish) was 15 t. However, it is likely that this survey underestimated the biomass, as a result of the 20 m safety limit imposed on diving depth for survey operations. White teatfish can occur at depths of more than 40 m, and previous research indicates that most inhabit waters deeper than 20 m (SPC 1994). Furthermore, the northern Don Cay region (Figure 19.1) was not included in the survey, potentially contributing to an underestimate of stock size. Past surveys may also have underestimated abundance and biomass for similar reasons. Given the historical restrictions on the use of breathing apparatus in this fishery, the depth preference of white teatfish is also likely to have protected the species from some level of fishing effort.
CSIRO surveyed sea cucumbers, including white teatfish (and those in waters below 20 m) in late 2019 and early 2020, so an updated estimate of biomass is expected to be available later in 2020.
Stock status determination
Recent catches of white teatfish have been sporadic, with all but 2 years (2013 and 2014) being below the 15 t TAC. Although the data that support the current TAC are close to 15 years old, average catch since 2010 has been approximately 6 t, which is substantially below the 15 t TAC.
The reported catch in 2019 was 1.6 t, which is below the 15 t TAC, includes catch confiscated from unlicensed fishers. This stock is therefore classified as not subject to overfishing. The relatively stable densities, mean weights and lengths from surveys up to 2009 indicate that the portion of the stock available to the fishery has also remained relatively stable. Given that there are no more recent data to indicate that this situation has changed, the stock is classified as not overfished.
Other sea cucumbers (18 species)
The ‘other sea cucumber’ stock is a basket stock of up to 18 species of sea cucumber. Together, these species are considered to constitute a single stock for management purposes.
Many of the individual species within this multispecies stock have been included in previous surveys (1995, 2002, 2005 and 2009) of sea cucumbers in Torres Strait. The results of the 2002 survey (Skewes et al. 2004) were used to estimate MSY, and subsequently TACs, for 15 of the species. For species considered to be ‘unexploited’ (that is, little or no fishing currently or in the recent past), the recommended TAC was equal to the estimate of MSY (this includes Holothuria atra—lollyfish, and curryfish species). For species currently or previously fished, but showing no evidence of severe depletion, the recommended TAC was half of MSY (this includes H. fuscopunctata—trunkfish, H. lessoni—golden sandfish, Stichopus chloronotus—greenfish, and Bohadschia argus—leopardfish). Finally, for species considered ‘overexploited’ (where the population is severely depleted and densities are several times lower than unfished biomass levels) or with MSY estimates less than 10 t, the recommended TAC was zero (this includes Actinopyga miliaris—hairy blackfish, and deepwater redfish—H. echinites). Because of the multispecies nature of this stock, the PZJA has established an 80 t TAC for all species combined (Table 19.2). This TAC is not biologically meaningful at the species level.
CSIRO surveyed sea cucumbers, including those in this basket, in late 2019 and early 2020, so updated estimates of biomass are expected to be available later in 2020. With the implementation of the new harvest strategy in late 2019, TACs will be set for a number of the basket species in the 2020 fishing season.
Stock status determination
Catch of this stock in 2019 comprised a number of species, at least 2 of which (deepwater redfish and hairy blackfish) were considered to have been reduced to low levels and therefore to have a recommended TAC of zero (Skewes et al. 2004). The 2019 catch for the basket was 23.7 t, less than half of reported catch from 2018 (47.8 t), and well below the 80 t TAC set by the PZJA (Table 19.2). Curryfish made up over half of the catch (14.5 t), including the estimate of spoiled disposed catch.
Although the total catch was below the basket TAC and the species-specific catch for most species was below the species-specific TAC recommended by Skewes et al. (2004), the catches of redfish (50 kg) and hairy blackfish (3,475 kg) were above the zero TACs recommended by Skewes et al. (2004). It is unclear if the catches in 2019 (and for other years since TACs were calculated) would impede effective recruitment and recovery of redfish or blackfish species. As such, the level of fishing mortality of the stock as a whole is considered to be uncertain.
At the time of the last full-scale survey, some species that make up this multispecies stock were considered to have been reduced to low levels by historical fishing. It has also been a number of years since the last survey (noting updated survey results are expected to be available later in 2020). As a result, the biomass status of some species, and therefore the stock as a whole, remains uncertain.
Trochus (Trochus niloticus)
Trochus in Torres Strait is assumed to represent a single biological stock (T Skewes, CSIRO, 2013, pers. comm.).
Trochus was surveyed in Torres Strait in 1995, 2002, 2005 and 2009, mostly in combination with surveys of sea cucumbers and other reef-dwelling marine resources. The 2009 survey sampled 113 sites (11 specifically for trochus) over 10 days, during which 73 specimens were found at 12 sites. The survey transects sampled to a depth of 20 m, but trochus was not found deeper than 3 m. Murphy et al. (2010) suggested that the low numbers, and often complete absence, of trochus may be because it has quite different habitat requirements from sea cucumbers. When suitable trochus habitat was identified and specifically targeted, animals were commonly found. In the 2009 survey, the average density of trochus was estimated at 25 individuals per hectare (lower 90th percentile: 5 individuals per hectare), with a standing stock estimate of 634 t (lower 90th percentile: 138 t). The density of trochus in 2009 was similar to that observed in 1995, and the authors suggested that it was comparable to that of unfished stocks in other South Pacific locations.
Despite the well-established and repeated methodology used in the surveys, the reliability of the estimates of density and standing stock is uncertain because of the small number of sites at which trochus was found (only 12 of 113 sites), the low total number of trochus observed (73) and the resulting high variability around mean estimates of density. Murphy et al. (2010) concluded that the density estimates had very low precision and that the probability of detecting even large changes in trochus density was low.
Murphy et al. (2010) recommended setting a trigger catch level of 75 t (live shell weight), based on historical information, anecdotal harvest patterns and a 20% exploitation rate of the estimated standing stock. It was recommended that the TAC should be reassessed and the stock assessed if catch exceeded this level. The current TAC for trochus in Torres Strait is 150 t, but there is no robust assessment or survey basis for that level of catch (Murphy et al. 2010).
Stock status determination
No catch of trochus was reported in 2019. As a result, the stock is classified as not subject to overfishing. Given the long history of fishing for trochus in Torres Strait (pre-European settlement; DPIE 1994), the unfished biomass is unknown. Furthermore, although the results of the 2009 survey suggested that trochus densities were similar to unfished stocks in other South Pacific locations, the very low precision of the results means that the biomass status of trochus remains uncertain.
1 The term ‘location’ was used in the 2012 experimental fishing trial rather than ‘site’. These locations were data logger tracks that indicated where experimental fishing occurred. They were labelled locations rather than sites because they were not generally separated by 500 m, a characteristic of the sites used in previous full-scale stock surveys. Locations were chosen by individual fishers rather than being specified by experimental design. Of the 37 locations fished, 14 were next to 3 sites surveyed for sandfish in previous years (N Murphy, CSIRO, 2013, pers. comm.).
19.3 Economic status
Key economic trends
Estimates of net economic returns (NER) and gross value of production are unavailable for the TSBDMF or the TSTF. NER are likely to have declined in the 2019 season owing to an increased level of quota latency. For Torres Strait Islanders, the TSBDMF is considered an important commercial fishery (PZJA 2014). Low levels (2018) to no participation (2019) in the TSTF are likely due to limited overseas market demand for shells.
Overall, catch in the TSBDMF declined by 42% in 2019 compared with the 2018 season. Most of the decline was for lower-value species, with catch for prickly-redfish (a high-value species) declining by 21% in the same period. There was no reported catch of trochus. Despite an increase in fishing permits for sea cucumbers and trochus in 2019, and unchanged TAC settings, latency increased in the 2019 season. Generally, demand for sea cucumber is high, particularly from Hong Kong (Purcell, Williamson & Ngaluafe 2018). In the 2017–18 financial year, 90% of sea cucumber exports were destined for Hong Kong; in 2018–19, this increased to 92%. The total value of all Australian sea cucumber exports was $17.4 million in 2017–18 ($62.88 per kilo), increasing to $18.3 million in 2018–19 ($88.88 per kilo), with most product exported dried, salted or brined.
Performance against economic objective
Management arrangements for the TSBDMF are consistent with both the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines 2018 (HSP) and consistent with objectives of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. The harvest control rules for the fishery and the objectives for the fishery are provided in the Torres Strait Beche-de mer Fishery Harvest strategy (AFMA 2019b), which will enter into force in the 2020 fishing season. The development of a harvest strategy that considers and incorporates the objectives of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act provide a sound basis for managing the fishery in future seasons.
For the TSBDMF, the PZJA aims to provide for the sustainable use of resources, develop stocks for the benefit of Australian traditional inhabitants and develop a long-term strategy for sandfish (AFMA 2019b). The anticipated reopening of the black teatfish part of the fishery (when catch reporting improves) will improve the economic performance of the fishery, as will rebuilding the sandfish stocks to a level that allows resumption of catch of this stock.
For the TSTF, the PZJA aims to optimise resource use, maximise opportunities for traditional inhabitants and encourage participation in the fishery (AFMA 2019b).
The socio-economic and environmental objectives of the TSBDMF harvest strategy that will be in effect in the 2020 season include (AFMA 2019b):
- sustainable use of sea cucumbers in Torres Strait with a long-term view of sustainability for future generations
- development of sea cucumber populations for the benefit of traditional inhabitants and to take into account commercial considerations
- consideration of an ecosystem approach to management
- development of long-term recovery strategies for species, where appropriate.
19.4 Environmental status
Both the bêche-de-mer and trochus fisheries are included on the List of Exempt Native Specimens under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The TSBDMF is exempt from export controls until 18 December 2020, and the TSTF is exempt until 9 October 2026. In 2019, Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora listed black teatfish as ‘vulnerable’ and white teatfish as ‘endangered’.
No ecological risk assessments have been conducted for the TSBDMF or the TSTF. The most recent EPBC Act assessments of the fisheries (Department of the Environment 2014) assume that impacts on the ecosystem of each fishery would be restricted to exploitation of target species; translocation of species through anchor and hull fouling; and impacts on reef ecosystems related to anchoring, mooring and other anthropogenic activities, such as reef-top walking.
In accordance with accreditation under the EPBC Act 1999 (see Chapter 1, ‘Protected species interactions’) AFMA publishes and reports quarterly on interactions with protected species on behalf of Commonwealth fishing operators to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE). No interactions with species protected under the EPBC Act were reported in either fishery in 2019.
These reported interactions with protected species form a part of the ongoing monitoring by DAWE of the performance of fisheries within their accreditation under the EPBC Act.
AFMA 2011, Annual status report, Torres Strait Trochus Fishery strategic and export accreditation, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
——2013, Annual report, Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery 2013, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
——2015, Torres Strait Trochus Fishery export accreditation application, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
——2019a, ‘15th meeting of the Torres Strait Hand Collectables Working Group, 1–2 August 2019, meeting record’, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
——2019b, Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery harvest strategy, November 2019, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Canberra.
Department of the Environment 2014, Assessment of the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery, Department of the Environment, Canberra.
DPIE 1994, Fisheries and marine research in Torres Strait, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Canberra.
Murphy, NE, McLeod, I, Skewes, TD, Dovers, E, Burridge, C & Rochester, W 2010, Torres Strait hand collectables, 2009 survey: trochus, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Cleveland, Queensland.
——, Skewes, T, Filewood, F, David, C, Seden, P & Jones, A 2011, The recovery of the Holothuria scabra (sandfish) population on Warrior Reef, Torres Strait, final report to AFMA, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Cleveland, Queensland.
——, Skewes, TD, Dovers, E & Leatherbarrow, A 2012, Assessing stock recovery using experimental fishing for sandfish on Warrior Reef, Torres Strait, final report, CSIRO, Dutton Park, Queensland.
Purcell, SW, Williamson, DH & Ngaluafe, P 2018, ‘Chinese market prices of bêche-de-mer: implications for fisheries and aquaculture’, Marine Policy, vol. 91, pp. 58–65.
PZJA 2014, ‘Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery’, Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority, pzja.gov.au/the-fisheries/torres-strait-beche-de-mer-fishery, accessed 20 August 2018.
——2018, ‘Total allowable catch for prickly redfish reduced to 15 tonnes’, Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority, www.pzja.gov.au/notices-and-announcements/notices-and-announcements/total-allowable-catch-for-prickly-redfish-reduced-to-15-tonnes, accessed 20 August 2018.
Skewes, T, Dennis, DM, Koutsoukos, A, Haywood, M, Wassenberg, T & Austin, M 2004, Stock survey and sustainable harvest strategies for Torres Strait bêche-de-mer, AFMA project R01/1345, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Cleveland, Queensland.
——, Murphy, NE, McLeod, I, Dovers, E, Burridge, C & Rochester, W 2010, Torres Strait hand collectables, 2009 survey: sea cucumber, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Cleveland, Queensland.
SPC 1994, Sea cucumbers and bêche-de-mer of the tropical Pacific: a handbook for fishers, handbook 18, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea.
Uthicke, S, Welch, D & Benzie, JAH 2003, ‘Slow growth and lack of recovery in overfished holothurians on the Great Barrier Reef: evidence from DNA fingerprints and repeated large-scale surveys’, Conservation Biology, vol. 18, pp. 1395–404.