Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery
The Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery is the second most valuable commercial fishery in Torres Strait and very important to many Torres Strait Islanders.
The fishery is based on a single species, the ornate or tropical rock lobster (Panulirus ornatus).
Tropical Rock Lobsters (TRL) are taken by hand or a short hand spear by divers working from dinghies. Most divers free dive on shallow reef tops but others use hookah (surface supplied air) to dive the large areas of open bottom in Torres Strait. Most fishing occurs during neap tides when currents ease and underwater visibility improves. The commercial fishing season is from 1 December to 30 September the following year (inclusive), with a peak in fishing occurring during March to August.
Three sectors operate within the Torres Strait TRL Fishery including:
- Traditional Inhabitant sector
- Non-Traditional Inhabitant sector
- Papua New Guinea (under cross-endorsements).
Hookah gear now permitted for the rest of the 2017-18 fishing season
2 July 2018
The use of hookah gear (surface-supply breathing apparatus) is again permitted for use in the Tropical Rock Lobster (TRL) fishery for the rest of the 2017-18 fishing season, after Malu Lamar’s successful legal challenge (letter to licence holders). Fishing with the use of hookah gear is permitted by all licence holders, except during moon-tide hookah closure periods detailed in the calendar (below).
Given the low Recommended Biological Catch (RBC) this year, PZJA will consider additional measures to ensure catches do not exceed the Australian share of the RBC. It is anticipated that the season will close early to all commercial fishing.
For more information contact AFMA’s Thursday Island office on 07 4069 1990.
Comments received on the draft Tropical Rock Lobster Management Plan
The public comment period for the draft Torres Strait Fishery (Quotas for Tropical Rock Lobster (Kaiar)) Management Plan 2016 (the Plan) has now closed.
The management objectives for the Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery are:
- To maintain the fishing mortality at a level below that which produces the Maximum Sustainable Yield (F MSY) (accounting for all sources of fishing mortality);
- In accordance with the Torres Strait Treaty, to protect the traditional way of life and livelihood of Traditional Inhabitants, in particular in relation to their traditional fishing for Tropical Rock Lobster;
- To provide for the optimal utilisation, co-operative management with Queensland and PNG and for catch sharing to occur with PNG;
- To monitor interactions between the prawn and lobster fisheries;
- To maintain appropriate controls on fishing gear allowed in the fishery so as to minimise impacts on the environment;
- To promote economic development in the Torres Strait area with an emphasis on providing the framework for commercial opportunities for Traditional Inhabitants and to ensure that the opportunities available to all stakeholders are socially and culturally appropriate for the Torres Strait and the wider Queensland and Australian community; and,
- Optimise the value of the fishery.
Growth in the Torres Strait TRL Fishery is limited to Traditional Inhabitants of the Torres Strait so as to maximise their economic development and employment opportunities.
In support of this, the PZJA has introduced licensing restrictions that prevent growth within the non-Islander sector, both in terms of fishing capacity (boat replacement policy) and the containment of licence numbers.
There is also a ban on trawlers taking lobster to prevent pressure on the lobster resource from the prawn trawling fleet.
Most of the management arrangements are outlined in Fisheries Management Notice No. 80 and include size restrictions, closed seasons, gear restrictions and bag limits. These are detailed below.
Regulations currently implemented in the Torres Strait TRL Fishery include:
- fishing method is restricted to hand collection or with the use of a hand held implement, such as a spear or scoop net;
- a complete seasonal commercial fishing closure during October and November (inclusive);
- a further seasonal closure on the use of hookah gear during December and January (inclusive);
- a minimum tail size of 115 mm or minimum carapace length of 90 mm for all commercially caught lobsters;
- a bag limit of 3 lobsters per person or 6 lobsters per dinghy (if there is more than one person aboard the boat) for traditional fishing – this is applicable to all Torres Strait Traditional Inhabitants including PNG Traditional Inhabitants) (the same limit applies to recreational fishing under Queensland State law); and
- a prohibition to process or carry tropical rock lobster meat that has been removed from any part of a tropical rock lobster on any boat.
Condition of the fishery
Stock assessment modelling indicates that the population of TRL naturally fluctuates from year to year however the stocks within the Torres Strait Protected Zone are currently not considered to be overfished.
Since 2006 a preliminary Total Allowable Catch (TAC) has been estimated to gauge the performance of the fishery and actual catch has not exceeded the preliminary TAC.
As at 30 June 2010, 289 Traditional Inhabitant boat licenses with TRL entries were active in the fishery and 13 non-Traditional Inhabitants licensed to fish in the fishery. Six PNG cross-endorsements were also issued to PNG commercial fishers to fish in the TRL Fishery during 2010.
The Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery was strategically assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in 2017 and accredited as a Wildlife Trade Operation for three years.
The Department of Environment and Energy also provided a number of recommendations to improve the sustainability of the fishery. The export accreditation is valid until 18 December 2020 at which time the fishery will be re-assessed.