Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery


Map showing the area of the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery (2006)

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:

  1.  Traditional Inhabitant sector 
  2.  Non-Traditional Inhabitant sector
  3.  Papua New Guinea (under cross-endorsements).

Hookah prohibited for the rest of the season

1 May 2018

From 30 April 2018 and until the end of the season, using and carrying hookah gear (surface-supply breathing apparatus) will not be permitted in the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster (TRL) Fishery.

Free diving and lamp fishing are still allowed.

This measure will reduce fishing effort in the TRL Fishery to ensure catches do not exceed the limit of the Australian catch share of the sustainable catch limit, and to prolong the opportunity for commercial fishing for the remainder of the season.

Given the rate at which the Australian catch share has been caught, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has sought advice from the TRL Working Group and Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) partner agencies about how to ensure catches do not exceed the Australian catch share.

As a result of the advice additional moon-tide hookah closures (from 7 days to 14 days each month) were implemented in the Fishery. This has now been expanded to a full closure on the use of hookah gear for the remainder of the fishing season.

All TRL Fishery licence holders have been notified of this decision that will apply as a condition on all commercial licences. View the 

The PZJA will also consider additional measures to ensure catches do not exceed the Australian catch share. This will include closing the TRL Fishery when the Australian catch share is caught.

For more information contact AFMA’s Thursday Island office on 07 4069 1990.

Prohibition on the carriage or use of hookah gear in the 2017/18 fishing season (as of 30 April 2018)

2018 moon tide closures

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.

Management objectives:

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.

Management arrangements

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.

Management regulations

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.

Strategic Assessment

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.