Geographic proximity and historical links between Australia and Papua New Guinea has contributed to establishing strong foreign relations between the countries. In the context of fisheries management in the Torres Strait, Australia’s involvement with Papua New Guinea is influenced by the Torres Strait Treaty.
Where is the Torres Strait?
The Torres Strait is located between the tip of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea and consists of over a hundred islands and reefs, with 18 islands currently inhabited.
What is the Department of Agriculture role in managing Torres Strait fisheries?
The department develops and implements policy for Torres Strait fisheries, ensures bilateral obligations are met between Australia and Papua New Guinea under the Torres Strait Treaty and the department acts as the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) Secretariat.
The PZJA is responsible for the management of commercial and traditional fishing in the Australian area of the Torres Strait Protected Zone and designated adjacent Torres Strait waters.
The Torres Strait Treaty was entered into by Australia and Papua New Guinea on 15 February 1985. It is concerned with sovereignty and maritime boundaries in the area between the two countries, the protection of the marine environment and the optimum utilisation of commercial resources in the region.
The Treaty establishes the TSPZ in which each country exercises sovereign jurisdiction for swimming fish and sedentary species on their respective sides of the agreed jurisdiction lines. The principal purpose in establishing the TSPZ is to acknowledge and protect the traditional way of life and livelihood of the indigenous inhabitants of the area. This includes the protection of traditional fishing methods and right of free movement.
Under the Treaty, Australia and Papua New Guinea are required to cooperate in the conservation and management of the commercial fisheries of the TSPZ. Continuation of this cooperation is an important interest for Australia, with regular bilateral discussions being undertaken between the two countries, either as specific fisheries discussions or as part of the broader Torres Strait Treaty Joint Advisory Council.
The most tangible aspects of this cooperation are the catch-sharing provisions (set out under Article 23 of the Treaty).This requires Australia and PNG to negotiate an agreed share of the catch in selected Torres Strait fisheries. Catch sharing also includes the development of subsidiary conservation and management arrangements under Article 22 of the Treaty.
The Australian area of jurisdiction, traditional fishing and the commercial fisheries are managed by the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority. The PZJA, established under the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984, comprises the Federal and Queensland Ministers responsible for fisheries and the Chair of the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
The fisheries currently managed by the PZJA are prawn, tropical rock lobster, pearl shell, Spanish mackerel, beche-de-mer, trochus, finfish, barramundi and traditional fishing (including turtle and dugong).
Five of these fisheries are known as Article 22 fisheries and are jointly managed by Papua New Guinea and Australia (under the subsidiary conservation and management arrangements discussed above). These are prawn, tropical rock lobster, pearl shell, Spanish mackerel, and dugong and turtle.
The prawn, tropical rock lobster and finfish fisheries are commercially harvested. The catch is shared between Papua New Guinea and Australia according to Article 22 and the formulae set out in the Torres Strait Treaty.
Recreational fishing in the Torres Strait is managed under Queensland law.