Commercial fishing is one of the most economically important activities in the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ) and provides a significant opportunity for financial independence for the traditional inhabitants of the region. The Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) has a policy of maximising the opportunities for Islander participation in all sectors of the commercial fishing industry.
A limited number of non-Traditional Inhabitants participate in the TSPZ commercial fisheries however no new licences can be issued to this group. Therefore there is no growth within this sector. Any non-Traditional Inhabitant interested in participating in the Torres Strait commercial fisheries must purchase an existing licence to gain access to a fishery.
There is scope for expansion in the Traditional Inhabitant sector and the number of Traditional Inhabitant boat licences available is unlimited.
From 1 April 1999, it was proposed that in all PZJA fisheries, Torres Strait Islanders would need to hold a current Torres Strait Traditional Inhabitant Fishing Boat Licence (TIB) or Torres Strait Fishing Boat Licence (TVH) for the purpose of commercial fishing in the TSPZ.
The TIB licence replaced the former community licensing arrangements and is available only to Torres Strait Islanders or Aboriginal people from three Northern Peninsula Area communities. A Torres Strait TVH licence may be owned and used by either Traditional Inhabitants or non-Traditional Inhabitants. It is now a requirement for all commercial fishers (Traditional and non-Traditional Inhabitants) to hold a relevant commercial fishing licence to participate in any of the Torres Strait commercial fisheries. The commercial fisheries include:
- tropical rock lobster
- spanish mackerel
- pearl shell
- sea cucumber
A Traditional Inhabitant boat licence (TIB) is not required for traditional fishing. The traditional fisheries include:
- dugong and turtle
- all other sea resources
Fisheries management for commercial and traditional fishing in the Torres Strait Protected Zone is governed by the provisions of the Torres Strait Treaty and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984. The Torres Strait Treaty was entered into by Australia and Papua New Guinea in February 1985. It is concerned with sovereignty and maritime boundaries in the area between the two countries and the protection of the way of life and livelihood of traditional inhabitants and the marine environment.
The Commonwealth Parliament passed the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 and it came into force in February 1985. The purpose of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 is to give effect, in Australian law, to the fisheries elements of the Torres Strait Treaty.