black teatfish
Australian Fisheries

Another successful season for the sustainable fishing of black teatfish

The fishing season for black teatfish, a high value species of sea cucumber found in the Torres Strait, closed on Thursday 2 May 2024, after a catch of nearly 16 tonnes was caught in just four days. The overall catch was slightly lower than expected as fishers had to contend with unfavourable weather not experienced in previous years.

Torres Strait Islanders have exclusive access rights to black teatfish, which is estimated to be worth approximately AUD $550,000 to the local economy. Black teatfish is a vital source of income supporting livelihoods and the traditional way of life in the Torres Strait.

The export value of Australian sea cucumbers has risen substantially over the last decade due to declining stocks around the world, as well as demand from other countries where they are a highly desired for purported health and medicinal benefits.

To ensure the black teatfish are harvested in accordance with the rules, fishing was monitored by a joint patrol of fisheries officers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol. Aerial surveillance provided by Maritime Border Command was also used.

The patrol engaged with a range of fishers, finding high levels of compliance with their responsibility and custodianship a key contribution to the continuing success of the fishery.

Mr Wez Norris, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, recognised the commitment of Torres Strait Island Traditional Inhabitants.

“It’s encouraging to see how Torres Strait Islanders have embraced the improved management measures for the black teatfish,” he said. “Their support has been critical to allowing the species to open for fishing again in 2024.”

“I’d like to thank the Torres Strait Islander peoples again for their cooperation and enthusiasm to see this fishery opened for another year, as well as the hard-working staff of AFMA, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Torres Strait Regional Authority for the organisation and administration”.

“This is a fantastic example of all levels of government and the local community coming together to achieve a sustainable resource for future generations.”

In the lead up to the season opening, the Protected Zone Joint Authority accepted advice from the Torres Strait Hand Collectables Resource Assessment Group and Working Group to set a total allowable catch of 20 tonnes and a date for the opening. These groups included members and observers from the local fishing industry and Native Title interests across the Torres Strait.

In 2023, fishing for the black teatfish was reopened on an annual basis for the first time in 20 years thanks to a concerted conservation and stock restoration effort, marking decades of work with scientists, traditional fishers, and government agencies.

Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) Chairperson Napau Pedro Stephen AM said the short but significant season supported economic development and species sustainability.

“The opening is part a long-term plan developed by local people, scientists, and industry to support species regeneration and healthy stock levels,” Mr Stephen said.

“This is a success story about local voices leading local outcomes to balance economic and environmental aspirations in the Torres Strait.”

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