Australian Fisheries

Successful fishing season for black teatfish after 20-year closure

The 2023 black teatfish fishing season has been a resounding success. The season closed on Thursday, 18 May, after the total allowable catch was caught just three and a half days after opening.

Approximately 170 Traditional Inhabitant Boat Licence Holders have exclusive access rights to black teatfish, which is estimated to be worth at least $720,000 to the local economy. Black teatfish are a vital source of income supporting livelihoods and the traditional way of life in the Torres Strait. The commercial Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery is more than a century old and is centred around the eastern islands of Mer, Ugar, Erub, Poruma and Masig.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) determined the total allowable catch of 20 tonnes was likely to be reached on Thursday, 18 May at 12.00 pm. Therefore, the fishery was closed at 12.00pm and all Torres Strait islander fishers were required to land all their black teatfish catches to a licensed fish receiver by 6.00 pm the same day.

Wez Norris, CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, praised all involved in making the season such a success. “The black teatfish is a highly prized species of sea cucumber, and this year’s season opening is the culmination of 20 years of effort from Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) agencies, scientists, and Traditional Inhabitants to rebuild the fishery. This is the first annual season since its closure in 2003, following successful trials in 2021 and 2022. The rebuilding of this fishery is a conservation and restoration success.”

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

To ensure the black teatfish fishing was in accordance with directions, the fishery was monitored by a joint patrol of fisheries officers from AFMA and the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol. Aerial surveillance provided by Maritime Border Command was also used to target non-compliant activity.

The patrol engaged with a range of fishers, primarily Torres Strait Traditional Inhabitants fishing for black teatfish. Most fishers were found to be compliant, and their responsibility and custodianship was a key contribution to the success of the fishery.

AFMA Fisheries Observers conducted scientific sampling of the black teatfish catches, and the data collected will be used to support decision making for future openings of the Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery. Improved management measures, including conservation and stock restoration efforts, have been critical to allowing the species to reopen for fishing since its closure in 2003. “Next year, we look forward to engaging community members to assist with this monitoring effort as a way of integrating modern science with traditional knowledge” Mr Norris said. 

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