Important changes: Hookah gear use in the 2017-18 Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery season

EFFECTIVE 1600 AEST 29 JUNE 2018

The Federal Court of Australia has handed down its decision in the matter of Malu Lamar (Torres Strait Islander) Corporation RNTBC v Dr James Findlay (delegate of the Protected Zone Joint Authority) (VID577/2018). Malu Lamar’s application requested the reversal of AFMA’s decision to prohibit the use of hookah gear in the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery (TRL Fishery) for the remainder of the 2017-18 fishing season.

Malu Lamar’s application to reverse AFMA’s decision has been granted by the Federal Court of Australia. This judgement takes effect from 1600 AEST 29 June 2018.

While AFMA is considering lodging an appeal against the decision, Malu Lamar’s successful challenge means both TIB and TVH licence holders will again be able to use hookah gear to take TRL this season, except during moon-tide hookah closure periods detailed in my letter dated 10 April 2018. These closures are now in force as a condition on your licence under section 22 of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. This condition is as follows:

Fishing in the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery using surface supply breathing apparatus (hookah) during the specified closure periods is an offence under section 45(1)(d) (f) of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. Please refer to the moon-tide hookah closure calendar (dated 10 April 2018) for the dates of each closure.

The use of hookah gear will next be permitted from 2-9 July 2018. Please refer to the moon-tide hookah closure calendar for further details.

Malu Lamar’s successful challenge will also require Australia to advise the PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) that the basis on which PNG recently agreed to increase the Australian catch share of the recommended biological catch (RBC) has changed. Hookah gear was banned in the TRL Fishery when the agreement with the PNG NFA was reached. It is unknown whether the PNG NFA will seek to revisit the catch sharing arrangement with Australia. As of 26 June 2018, Australia’s reported catch is 200.53 tonnes.

Given the low RBC this season and high hookah catch rates, AFMA’s decision to prohibit the use of hookah gear was designed to extend the season by preventing both TIB and TVH fishers using hookah gear, but still allowing free diving and lamp fishing. Prohibiting the use of hookah gear was also expected to reduce the risk of catches exceeding the Australian catch share of the RBC due to delays in data reporting.

It is expected that Malu Lamar’s successful challenge will result in the Australian catch share of the RBC being reached sooner. Under the Torres Strait Treaty, the PZJA is obliged to close the TRL Fishery when the Australian catch share is reached. TRL licence holders and other stakeholders will be kept informed of further advice regarding an early closure of the TRL Fishery and any advice from PNG.

Should you have any questions concerning the matters covered in this letter, please contact Natalie Couchman at the AFMA Thursday Island office on 07 4069 1990 or natalie.couchman [at] afma.gov.au. If you would also like to receive future management updates by email or SMS please contact the AFMA Thursday Island office to update your contact details.

Yours sincerely


Dr James Findlay
Delegate of the PZJA