Sustainable development and commercial enterprise
The marine resources of the Torres Strait are a vital part of both the
subsistence and commercial life of Torres Strait Islanders and neighbouring PNG
villages. Outside the government sector, fishing is the biggest industry in the
Torres Strait. According to Mr See Kee, fishing offers 'the most potential
Although the Treaty places a heavy emphasis on conserving and protecting
the environment so that traditional inhabitants can carry on their customary
way of life, it also recognises the importance of economic development. In this
chapter, the committee complements its consideration of traditional fishing in
the Torres Strait by turning its focus to the commercial opportunities for the region's
fisheries industry. It starts by outlining the potential for commercial fishing
in the Torres Strait and some of the arrangements under which commercial
fishers operate in the region.
Potential for commercial fisheries
in Torres Strait
A number of fisheries make up the industry in the Torres Strait—bêche-de-mer, the Torres
Strait crab, finfish, pearl shell, prawn, trochus and tropical rock lobster
(TRL). The most valuable commercial fisheries in the Torres Strait are prawn,
TRL, Spanish mackerel and finfish. The TSRA told the committee that TRL is the
second most valuable fishery and one that is important to Torres Strait
Islanders because of the high value of the catch and the relatively low
operational costs compared to the other fisheries.
Mr Roland Pittar, DAFF, informed the committee that the value of the TRL
fishery in 2007–08 was about $9.4 million and the Torres Strait prawn fishery $10.4
million. Professor Hurry advised that the focus to date in TRL fishery in the
Torres Strait was on taking and selling lobster tails. He noted:
There is far more money in live lobster in the world market
than there is in lobster tails. So, in that sense, you could increase the
return from the rock lobster fishery.
With regard to the prawn fishery, Professor Hurry explained that this
commercial fishery depended on the economics of fishing in the strait and the
cost of operating there in any given year. He informed the committee:
It is often driven by the Australian dollar. The Australian
dollar is quite strong at the moment, so it is hard to trade some of our prawns
on the market. This year you will see that the fishing effort in the prawn
fishery in the Torres Strait is quite low. In any year, if they fished the
number of days that we make available to them, the fishery would be pretty well
fully fished—it would be fished at a sustainable level.
The value of the finfish fishery stood at about $1 million for 2007–08
which was made up of reef line fishery of around $0.55 million, and the Spanish
mackerel fishery at about $0.68 million.
Professor Hurry was of the view that 'there is real potential to catch and
trade live coral trout and live reef fish out of the Torres Strait into the [valuable]
world live reef fish market'.
He suggested that while the reef line and Spanish mackerel fisheries have scope
for development, it was up to the Torres Strait Islanders to determine how they
develop that fishery.
The hand collectables, that is, the more traditional fisheries such as
trochus and commercial pearl fisheries, were not ascribed a gross value of
In addition, the Islanders fish and collect crayfish for domestic consumption.
The committee considered bêche-de-mer
in its discussion on conservation of vulnerable species.
Mr Bedford, TSRA, also noted the many other economic opportunities associated
with the fishing industry, for example boat building and maintenance. He
suggested that these are 'potentially areas we are trying to concentrate on
investing in the future'.
The committee now looks at the provisions of the Treaty and arrangements
for commercial fishing in the Torres Strait.
Promoting economic development under the Treaty
Part 5 of the Treaty is concerned with the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ)
commercial fisheries. As noted in chapter 2, the Treaty established the TSPZ, which
includes all the land, sea, airspace, seabed and subsoil within a large area delineated
in the Treaty (see map, p. 8). This zone comprises most of the area within the
Torres Strait: all the Australian islands north of the seabed line, through the
central part of the strait, excluding the southern islands adjacent to Cape
York Peninsula. The TSPZ is intended to safeguard the interests of Indigenous
communities in the region and for environmental protection.
The Treaty requires both Australia and PNG to cooperate in the
conservation, management and optimum utilisation of commercial fisheries operating
in the zone (Article 21). To this end, Australia and PNG are to consult and
enter into arrangements for the effective implementation of the provisions of
this part of the Treaty. It should be noted that commercial activity in the TSPZ
is not to prejudice the purpose of the Treaty with regard to protecting the
traditional way of life.
Under the Treaty, Australia and PNG may undertake, where appropriate, to
negotiate subsidiary conservation and management arrangements for individual TSPZ
commercial fisheries. As part of these arrangements, the countries jointly
determine the allowable catch of a commercial fishery, or the 'optimum
The Treaty also provides for a complex catch-sharing arrangement between
Australia and PNG of the allowable catch of fish. In areas under Australian
jurisdiction, the proportion set down under the Treaty is 75 per cent for
Australia and 25 per cent for PNG. In certain areas, Australia and PNG have an
equal 50 per cent share. In areas under PNG jurisdiction, Australia has a 25
per cent share and PNG 75 per cent. With a number of exceptions, PNG has the
sole entitlement to the allowable catch of the commercial barramundi fishery
near its coast.
Professor Hurry drew on the TRL to explain the process of assessing the level
and proportion of catch:
CSIRO do a stock assessment of the stocks both on our side
and their side...and we allocate 25 per cent of what the TAC [total allowable
catch] is to Papua New Guinea, and the rest of it is for our fishers and the Torres
Strait islanders to fish on our side of the line.
He used the prawn fishery to illustrate how an allocation is determined,
explaining that prawn fishing is managed by allocating fishing nights:
On a scientific basis you work out the likely total allowable
catch of prawns on the Torres Strait and then work out an average night’s
catch. So you determine a number of nights against what you think the allowable
catch should be. Then you allocate that and you keep 25 per cent of the
allocation for Papua New Guinea.
Professor Hurry explained that each year, both countries have a 'fairly open
discussion' on the allocation of resources and the management of them,
including the formal arrangements for sharing the catch. He noted that if PNG
decides not to use its full quota, Australia can seek to take up the unused portion.
He explained that to date, PNG has agreed to Australia having its 25 per cent share
of the catch in the area under Australian jurisdiction, which is then allocated
to Australian fishers.
As an example, for the 2008–09 period, the PNG National Fisheries
Authority informed DAFF that they would not use their Spanish mackerel
entitlement and made it available to Australia. Such decisions are made annually.
With regard to Australian commercial fishers taking up their entitlement to a
percentage of the allowable catch on the PNG side, Professor Hurry noted that normally,
Australian boats choose not to fish across the line.
Cooperation is central to a number of other provisions under Part 5 of
the Treaty. The countries are to consult on, and cooperate in, how they issue
and endorse licences permitting commercial fishing in the TSPZ. In doing so,
the responsible authorities of both countries are to take account of the
desirability of promoting economic development in the Torres Strait area and
employment opportunities for the traditional inhabitants. Both countries are
required to ensure that the traditional inhabitants are consulted from time to
time on the licensing arrangements in respect of TSPZ commercial fisheries. The
Treaty also requires both countries to share information, consult and cooperate
with regard to inspection and enforcement measures governing commercial fishery
in the TSPZ.
Monitoring fishing activity
Monitoring commercial fishing activity under the agreements reached by
Australia and PNG is the responsibility of the respective governments. For
example, the recent audit on finfishing in the Torres Strait explained that were
PNG to take up their catch in the area of Australian jurisdiction, any PNG
vessels would need to seek finfish fishing endorsement from the Queensland
Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI). They
would be bound by the same fishing requirements governing the holders of
authorised Australian vessels, such as submitting log books with AFMA.
Professor Hurry noted that PNG nationals usually nominate which vessels
are coming across to fish on what fisheries on Australia's side of the zone.
For instance, if they were coming across to fish rock lobster, they would identify
the vessels, the number of tenders with them and the period they would spend in
AFMA monitors the total catch to ensure that the PNG fishers remain within
their allocated share of the catch.
Interestingly, in November 2009, the Torres Strait Management Advisory
Committee reported that for the first time in a number of years, PNG
cross-endorsed vessels had accessed the Australian fishery for TRL. It noted
concerns raised by community fisher groups about compliance and the monitoring
of those vessels. The advisory committee indicated that during discussion on
conditions required of cross-endorsed vessels, some ambiguous areas were
identified that require further investigation.
It noted further:
A pre-season information session with the skippers of PNG
cross-endorsed vessels is being considered for 2010 as a way to ensure that all
licence conditions are fully understood by those on the vessels before they
enter the Australian jurisdiction.
This suggestion ties in with the comments made by stakeholders to a
recent review of the PZJA who voiced concerns about PNG's involvement in
information-sharing activities such as meetings. The paper stated:
...it is important to have PNG fully engaged and that proper
communication processes be put in place with PNG to ensure attendance at
meetings. The principal focus of consultative arrangements needs to take
account of the Treaty provisions, but also needs to be on the ecological
sustainability of the fisheries resources in the Torres Strait.
This observation is consistent with a dominant theme in this report—the critical
importance of having PNG actively engaged with Australia in implementing the
provisions of the Treaty. The concerns raised by the community fisher groups
about PNG vessels failing to comply with the terms of their Australian fishing
licences may well be resolved by having appropriate communication processes in
Aside from the matter raised above about ensuring that PNG fishers are
aware of the conditions of their licence and comply with those conditions, the
committee is not aware of any major criticism of the provisions of the Treaty
with regard to PNG and commercial fishing in the TSPZ. Some witnesses, however,
were highly critical of the domestic management of commercial fishery on the Australian
side, in particular, the performance of the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint
Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority
The Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 (Cth) (TSFA) gives effect in
Australian law to the fisheries elements of the Treaty. In administering the
Act, regard is to be given to the rights and obligations conferred on Australia
by the Torres Strait Treaty.
Section 30 of Act establishes the PZJA. The Authority is the key
decision-making and policy-setting body for managing commercial and traditional
fisheries in the Australian portions of the TSPZ. Under this unique model, the
PZJA manages the prawn, TRL, Spanish mackerel, reef line, sea cucumber, trochus,
pearl shell, crab, barramundi and traditional fishing (including turtle and
dugong) in the area of the Torres Strait under Australian jurisdiction.
Its main functions are to:
- keep under constant consideration the condition of fishery under
- formulate policies and plans for the good management of the
for the purposes of the management of the fishery
exercise the powers conferred on it and
co-operate and consult with other authorities in matters of common
The PZJA is a small body comprising the Commonwealth Minister for
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Queensland Minister for Primary
Industries, Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland, and the Chairperson of
the TSRA. It is responsible for legislative policy formulation and compliance
and the bilateral relationship on fisheries with PNG. The authority 'has a
policy of enhancing the opportunities for Islander participation in all sectors
of the fishing industry'.
The three members of the PZJA are supported by their respective
government agencies—DAFF; the Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries, AFMA
and the TSRA. These four agencies are responsible for different aspects of
fisheries management in the Torres Strait.
DAFF contributes to the development and implementation of policy for
Torres Strait fisheries and provides the secretariat for the PZJA.
The Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries also assists in
developing PZJA fisheries policy. It acts as an agent for the PZJA, issues licences
on behalf of the PZJA and has responsibility for the collection of the levies.
It also manages recreational fishing, including charter fishing.
AFMA provides the overarching fisheries management services to the PZJA.
It conducts the day-to-day operational management of fisheries in the Torres
Strait and maintains contact with fishermen on the islands.
It also develops the fisheries management plans for the fisheries, consults
with communities on the plans, looks at the management of the turtle and dugong,
helps the Islanders with leasing arrangements of the finfish fishery, manages
the prawn fishery and organises the management advisory committees and the
In addition, AFMA coordinates the PZJA's foreign compliance activities
in association with border protection agencies, provides advice to the PZJA on
its management services and to the PZJA Chair through DAFF.
It maintains a management office on Thursday Island.
The TSRA, which is also based on Thursday Island, is a strong advocate
for maximising the opportunities for Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people
living in the strait to participate in the local fishing industry. It
recognises that economic participation is important to removing Indigenous
disadvantage in the region and further that commercial fishing provides a solid
platform for achieving this objective. Mr Kris explained that, through the
PZJA, the TSRA is looking at the fishing industry as a means to economic
The TSRA seeks to do its utmost to enable Indigenous people to obtain
employment and income from the fishery industry and ensure that the interests
of traditional inhabitants are represented in the PZJA.
To this purpose, two dedicated officers within the TSRA coordinate and
support the engagement of Torres Strait community fisher representatives in the
PZJA consultative structure.
The TSRA Fisheries Coordinator arranges for up to six representatives from this
group to attend 'all of the consultative forums on the PZJA business calendar'.
The TSRA Chair has 'a clear role supporting the two ministers in making policy
decisions for the Torres Strait Fisheries'.
Criticism of PZJA
For a number of years, the management of fisheries in the Torres Strait
has come under strong criticism.
In 2008, the PZJA agreed to a review of the agreement relating to the cost of managing
fisheries in the Australian sector of the TSPZ. The PZJA also requested that relevant
agencies look at the current agreement and provide options for consideration
prior to completing the 2009–2010 PZJA budget. This request prompted a review
of current governance arrangements which resulted in the publication of a 'high
level discussion paper'. The paper identified major problems with the
governance structure of the PZJA. In essence, it found that:
...the current administrative and governance arrangements are
cumbersome, inefficient and cause considerable frustration and in some cases
friction, particularly to those based on Thursday Island with day to day
exposure to the various and sometimes difficult and complex fisheries
management issues which arise from time to time.
The discussion paper noted that the four agencies sharing responsibility
and accountability for different aspects of fisheries management are situated
in three geographically different locations. It formed the view that the current
governance arrangement did not assist the achievement of sound fisheries management
outcomes. In particular, it drew attention to delays in decision making that 'are
causing stakeholders to lose faith in the consultative structure and the
ability of the PZJA to manage fisheries effectively'. In its view, the
stakeholders 'are becoming unwilling to attend meetings as they see them as a
waste of time if no decisions are being made or carried through'.
Evidence to this committee reinforced this assessment. The Queensland
Government was of the view that a 'convoluted governance arrangement' under the
PZJA was a major problem with fisheries management in the Torres Strait, which
resulted 'in an excessive amount of time for even simple decisions to be made'.
It identified the need for clearer accountability; more streamlined decision-making;
a single contact point for stakeholders; greater consistency between fisheries
management in the Torres Strait and other fisheries; and more efficient
In its view, each of the fisheries should be managed under the auspices of a
single existing body, preferably AFMA'.
The Queensland Rock Lobster Association was scathing in its criticism of the
PZJA, describing its bureaucracy as ponderous and stating further:
It is oversized, overcomplicated and absurdly expensive, and
seems incapable of achieving any meaningful or useful outcomes. Its chief
achievement seems to be the frequent employment of consultants at great expense
to produce reports which are often valuable and insightful, but are rarely
acted on because their conclusions are politically unpalatable and/or expose
the dysfunctional nature of the system itself.
The association referred to 'duplication of functions, internal
conflicts between agencies, inertia, evasion of responsibility, and inability
to make decisions on key issues (sometimes over periods of many years)'.
The M. G. Kailis Group echoed these sentiments, citing 'the immense frustration
felt by industry given the lack of progress in recent years'.
PZJA—review of management and
When questioned about problems in the management of fisheries in the
Torres Strait, Mr Malcolm Southwell, AFMA, explained that his agency was aware
of stakeholder concerns about the complexity of arrangements. He noted AFMA's
presence on Thursday Island and said, 'We hear it day to day'.
DAFF and AFMA informed the committee that agencies had undertaken a separate
administrative review to look at ways to simplify and streamline the
administration arrangements and improve the administrative efficiency of the
The review applied to how all the fisheries were administered, and was with the
agencies for consultation and comment and would then go to the PZJA in the near
Mr Pittar, DAFF, explained that the review was endeavouring to have 'clearer
definition of which agencies do what'.
Mr Southwell added that a range of options was under consideration in terms of
simplifying the administration. He stated further: 'certainly one of those is
for AFMA to take a greater role. We have heard that from stakeholders, but it
is but one of many options'.
Managing Islander and non-Islander
interests and expectations
The discussion paper which prompted the review also identified 'the
differing interpretations and cultural approaches taken to the management of
fisheries resources in the Torres Strait' as a key issue. It found that these
different approaches have made it difficult 'to establish and maintain a
clearly defined governance and accountability framework for fisheries
management'. It added:
There is a strong difference in philosophical approach
between the Traditional Inhabitants (who wish to determine their own affairs
based on the provisions of the Torres Strait Treaty, and who are supported in
this endeavour by the Torres Strait Regional Authority) and the modern day
approach to fisheries management taken by fisheries agencies such as AFMA and [Queensland
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries] QDPI&F operating under
statutes enacted by their Parliaments.
Evidence before this committee also highlighted problems due to cultural
differences. The TSRA noted the complexities involved in managing fisheries in
the Torres Strait and referred to the fact that the industry has traditional
inhabitant (subsistence and community fishing) and non-indigenous (commercial
fishing) dimensions. With regard to cultural difficulties, the Queensland
Government identified the following as two major problems with the fisheries
management in the Torres Strait.
- a distinct lack of trust on behalf of the Traditional Inhabitant
sector regarding what the PZJA is endeavouring to deliver in the TSPZ—that is,
sustainable allocation of resources in a manner in line with the Torres Strait
and Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984; and
- a stalemate over continued claims by Traditional Inhabitants to
regain full ownership of TSPZ resources.
The committee also received evidence from those engaged in the TRL industry
indicating that, in their view, they were being treated unfairly and their
rights were being compromised under the PZJA.
Dr Raymond Moore, a long-time fisherman in the Torres Strait, suggested that
there were three types of people operating in this fishery—Papua New Guineans,
community fishermen and non-community fishermen. He explained what he believed
was the thinking behind approaches taken toward non-Indigenous fishing
operators in the Torres Strait:
The non-community fishermen are the only ones that we can use
as a political football, so you are the ones we are going to penalise. We
cannot touch Papua New Guinea and we cannot touch the community fishermen, so
you are the ones who will be penalised.
In its submission, the M. G. Kailis Group stated that 'A key stumbling
block has been the failure to separate and address issues relating to
indigenous aspirations from the implementation of good quality management that
maximizes the value of the fishery to both the local and broader Australian
The issuing of licences and the requirement for non-Islander licence
operators to be manned by someone who has a Torres Strait Master Fisherman's Licence
is one of the most contentious matters.
The PZJA issues two types of commercial fishing licence based on ethnicity—Islander
and non-Islander. Under this arrangement, there is a traditional inhabitant
boat licence (TIB) and a transferable vessel holder licence (TVH). Non-Islanders
may engage only in commercial fishery while Islanders may be involved in both
commercial and traditional or customary fishery.
Traditional inhabitant boat
A traditional inhabitant boat licence (TIB) is issued on application and
available only to Torres Strait Islanders and to Aboriginal people from
Northern Peninsula communities. Dr Moore explained that there was no cap on
this fishery and any islander 'can get a licence to run a dinghy or a 20-metre
boat if they want'.
Mr Brett Arlidge, Queensland Rock Lobster Association, noted that there are about
400 TIBs but 'only a small percentage of those are actually full-time
Dr Moore indicated that 10–20 per cent would be pretty serious fishermen.
Transferable vessel holder licence
Non-Islanders can obtain a transferable vessel holder licence (TVH) but
there are only a limited number available. When the PZJA was established,
persons who could demonstrate that they had a prior history and commitment to
fishing in the Torres Strait were able to obtain a transferable licence. Dr
Moore explained that 'from one year after ratification of the treaty in 1985,
no more licences were issued to non-islanders'.
Because no new TVH licences have been allocated since the 1980s, operators
wishing to gain access to the fisheries in the TSPJ must purchase an existing
TVH licence. These licences apply to a specific fishery. A Torres Strait Master
Fisherman’s Licence is also required to operate a TVH-licenced boat.
Requirement for TVH operators to
have a Master Fisherman's Licence
Dr Moore explained that Islanders are not required to have a Master
Fisherman's Licence to run a dinghy or a boat, although they are available to them.
In contrast, non-Islanders need to have a Master Fisherman's Licence to operate
a boat but they are no longer issued to them. He explained that the reason
given for this requirement was to 'make sure that Islanders had to be employed
in operations'. He stated:
So suddenly this licence, which was meant to be about being
in charge of a dinghy, became a political angle, if you like, for employing
more Islanders. That would not be a bad concept if you could get people to
work, but it is extremely hard to find people who want employment. Nobody
really wants to work out at sea. Everyone is quite happy working for Centrelink
According to Dr Moore, the final decision with regard to the requirement
for non-Islanders to have Master Fisherman's Licence in order to operate a boat
rests with the PZJA.
Another contentious area involves the buyback of fishing licences. According
to the TSRA, Torres Strait Islanders have shown a strong interest in obtaining 100
per cent access to the TRL, Spanish mackerel and finfish fisheries.
It explained that amendments made to the TSFA in 2007 allowed the buy-back of
fishing entitlements held by non-Indigenous commercial fishers in the TRL and
finfish fisheries to be then transferred to the Indigenous sector. With
government assistance, traditional inhabitants have achieved 100 percent
ownership over the finfish industry.
DAFF paid $10.6 million in 2007 to complete the total (100 percent) purchase of
The Queensland Government informed the committee that the main tension
between the different groups was over the traditional inhabitants' aspiration
to have 100 per cent ownership of the TRL resource.
In this regard, Mr Kris noted that the Australian Government helped initially to
get 53 per cent buyback of the TRL.
Professor Hurry also noted that Torres Strait Islanders hold 53 per cent access
with the remaining 47 per cent held by the commercial sector.
According to TSRA, the TIB sector felt that '70 per cent of the total
Australian allocation was a more appropriate share for Indigenous fisheries'.
Mr Kris noted that they had bought out some of the licences to 'look at the
increase of numbers of our fishermen going into that industry'. He explained
that 'for us to create that employment market through that process of owning
those quotas for that industry is a direct linkage to a lot of our communities
on the outer islands'.
The Queensland Government noted that the failure of the PZJA to provide
a pathway to achieving the aspiration of 100 per cent ownership of the TRL by
traditional inhabitants has created resentment and led traditional inhabitants
to support 'the continuation of unnecessarily restrictive arrangements on the
non-traditional operators'. It suggested that these arrangements 'are one of
the reasons for the under-performance' of that industry.
Restrictions on the non-Islander
Non-Islanders engaged in the TRL fishery cited a number of impositions on
fishing, including an interim measure to impose a 30 per cent reduction in
non-Islander licences and additional moon phase closures which remain in place.
The committee has also mentioned the requirement for non-Islanders to have a
Master Fisherman's Licence, which they cannot obtain.
The Queensland Rock Lobster Association stated in its submission that
'since 2007 progress on the Torres TRL Management plan and consultative process
has been blocked and held to ransom by TSRA for political purposes'.
Mr Arlidge referred to the anger and frustration felt by many commercial
industry stakeholders and operators at the lack of progress in fishery
management in recent years. He said:
Progress on the new management plan and quota system, which
commenced in 2005, has been stalled completely since 2007. There is still no
certainty for industry stakeholders. Many unnecessary and outdated impediments
to modern efficient fishing operations are still with us, and they particularly
target and affect the commercial TVH sector. The need for a cooperative,
all-of-industry approach is clear, but at present constructive discussion and
negotiation is still not happening. That is an issue for the industry.
He informed the committee that since 2007, his industry has maintained
that the remaining input controls are no longer needed and should be removed. In
his view, however:
...despite the fact that industry has put that case each
year—season 2008, 2009, 2010—they have been reimposed each season. The
commercial industry and the TVH operators really feel this is unfair and
inequitable. I guess you could say that there has been a veto given to the TIB
sector on the removal of them. Basically, some of our more upset members
believe that whatever the TIB sector asks for will be provided. This is one of
the burning issues that quite a few fishers are very unhappy about.
He went on to argue that 'all these archaic input controls...actually [impede]
development of the live fishery, which would deliver much more value to
everyone—to the whole industry, from top to bottom'.
Business plan—addressing concerns
of TRL fisheries
DAFF informed the committee that a process was underway to develop a TRL
business plan that would attempt to deal with the competing aspirations of the
two sectors. Mr Pittar, DAFF, was aware of the efficiency concerns of the TRL
sector and the fact that they were not able 'to catch the amount of lobster
that they would be entitled to due to some existing input constraints'.
He recognised that the measures were having an 'impact on the sector' and noted
that when the PZJA decided on the arrangements for the 2010 season, it 'rolled
over the existing input constraints'. The PZJA has made known that it wanted
this to be the last year for the constraints and for next year's arrangements
to take account of the findings from a business plan.
According to Mr Pittar, DAFF have had a consultant working on the business plan,
which has been presented to the PZJA for information and consideration. The
department was expecting decisions regarding the business plan 'to be made in
The intention in developing this plan was to have far more efficient and
effective fishery management with modern arrangements. Mr Pittar informed the
committee, however, that local traditional inhabitants 'have been uncomfortable
with some of the move toward that and have issues'. In his words:
They want to ensure that their home reefs, for example, are
protected in a way that they can go out and harvest tropical rock lobster as
they might need to. Again, the process I am talking about is designed, we hope,
to achieve that outcome, whereby the commercial sector can work more efficiently
based on output controls and the sort of protection that traditional
inhabitants want for being able to harvest tropical rock lobster on home reefs,
as a case in point.
Acknowledging the differences in views between the non-Indigenous sector
and the Indigenous sector about how the industry should be managed, he stated
that the business plan would try to deal with the competing aspirations of the
two sectors. He stated further:
Given the joint decision-making of the PZJA if there are
differences of view, then the decision making, which aims to work on a
consensus basis, needs to find a pathway through those differences of view and,
as a consequence, not everyone is going to get exactly what they want. The idea
of this business-planning process is to allow the aspirations of each of those
sectors to be put forward so that hopefully some of the arrangements that are
in place to achieve a particular objective which may not be as efficient as
they might otherwise be can be looked at and addressed so that more efficient
fisheries management arrangements can be in place whilst the interests of
Indigenous people in the region are also protected.
Under-utilisation of resources
Another concern arising from the management of fisheries in the TSPZ is
the current underutilization of many of the marine resources. Unlike some species
such as bêche-der-mer,
other fish stocks are plentiful in the Torres Strait. For example, in DEWHA's
assessment, the prawn and TRL fisheries are 'generally operating at reasonably
low levels of catch and are sustainable'.
This underutilization occurs despite efforts to encourage greater
involvement of traditional inhabitants through the buy-back of licences. For
example, the Queensland Government cited the finfish industry which, it stated,
has experienced a 'significant decline in effort and catches'.
As noted earlier, traditional inhabitants now have 100 percent ownership of the
finfish industry. The 2009 performance audit of the finfish fishery management
found that 'economic development in the Torres Strait as a result of the
buyback has not eventuated'. It found:
Islander participation in the Finfish Fishery has decreased
since the buyback and it appears that no Islander fishers utilise the Finfish
Fishery as their sole or main source of income.
One major impediment is the high cost involved in developing fisheries
and the lack of resources to value-add. For example, the TSRA explained:
As the capacity does not yet exist in the Indigenous sector
in the Torres Strait to take up these entitlements, finfish quotas for the 2008–2009
fishing season were sold as leases to the commercial fishing sector. The
revenue raised from these leases is to be used to increase the capacity of
Indigenous fishers in the Torres Strait, through training and business loan
arrangements, to more profitably engage in the commercial sector.
The Queensland Government noted that the experience with the finfish
fishery is consistent with a concern for the TRL fisheries. It informed the
committee that because traditional inhabitants fish from inshore reefs in small
dinghies with no refrigeration, they have little ability to supply live product
to the market and hence focus on delivering lobster tails. It noted that the
highest returns derive from providing 'a stable supply of quality, live
product'. It concluded:
To date, even with the assistance of the TSRA, the
Traditional Inhabitant sector has been unable to establish any truly commercial
fishing operations that utilise either live tanks or larger offshore vessels, a
factor that will significantly inhibit their ability to guarantee increased
levels of product supply in the future.
Professor Hurry commented on the available infrastructure on the islands
which is not equipped to hold live lobsters, including 'boats required to
travel around, pick the live lobsters up and bring them back to market'. He
cited the TRL fishery on the east coast of Queensland where commercial
operators 'land planes on beaches, fly live product out and put it on the
market'. In his view:
If they [commercial operators] knew there was a regular
supply of lobsters coming out of the Torres Strait and it was worthwhile
sending boats around to pick live lobsters and live finfish up, I think you
would find a different structure and arrangement and the value of the fishery
probably increase and people would get more active in it.
He also referred to the five-year management plan for the rock lobster,
which according to him, 'should begin to take us down that path'.
The committee notes the high level of dissatisfaction with the
management of commercial fisheries in the Torres Strait by the PZJA. It
understands that government agencies are attempting to resolve difficulties,
especially with PZJA's governance structure and its decision making processes. The
committee is concerned, however, that the problems are longstanding and have been
evident for some time. It understands that a review has taken place and that
agencies are in the process of considering a range of options to simplify the
administration of the PZJA and also of finalising a five-year TRL business
plan. In light of the depth of dissatisfaction with, and the force of the
criticism levelled at, the performance of the PZJA, the question must arise
whether the governance and consultative mechanisms used by the authority are
deeply flawed. With this in mind, the committee believes that constant and
close monitoring of the performance of the PZJA is required and if no
improvement is discernible, then serious consideration should be given to a
more root-and-branch reform of the management arrangements for commercial
fisheries in the Torres Strait.
The committee recommends that DAFF monitor developments within the PZJA
during the coming twelve months. Further, at the end of that period, it consult
with representatives from the Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishing sectors in
the Torres Strait and with the Queensland Government to ascertain whether, in
their view, the PZJA is making progress in remedying the problems identified in
this report. The committee recommends that DAFF prepare a report for the minister
for his/her consideration and for the report to be provided to the committee.
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