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    Black teatfish season 2023

    Key information

    Opening date: 15 May 2023
    Total Allowable Catch (TAC) date (closing date)*: 12:00pm (midday) AEST on 18 May 2023
    Total Allowable Catch: 20 tonnes Catch against the TAC: 17.902 tonnes (as at 10:20am on 19/05/2023)

    Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery Traditional Inhabitant Boat (TIB) Licence Holders must stop all fishing for black teatfish by 12:00pm (midday) AEST on the TAC Date of 18 May 2023 and land all their black teatfish catches to a licenced fish receiver by 6:00pm AEST.

    Torres Strait Fish Receiver Licence Holders must stop receiving black teatfish by 6pm AEST on the TAC Date of 18 May 2023.

    Information for fishers

    Download the letter to Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery Traditional Inhabitant Boat (TIB) Licence Holders which notifies of the determination of the TAC Date for the black teatfish fishery.

    Information for fishers

    Download the letter to Torres Strait Fish Receiver Licence Holders which notifies of the determination of the TAC Date for the black teatfish fishery.

    Fishers must:

    • Hold a current TIB Licence with Beche-de-mer (BD) entry.
    • Make sure that all crew are traditional inhabitants.
    • Land black teatfish catches to a licenced Fish Receiver on the same day that catch is taken. This means daily.

    Fishers must not:

    • Fish for or stockpile black teatfish before 15 May 2023.
    • Use hookah gear.
    • Take black teatfish that are smaller than 25 centimetres.
    • Fish from a boat greater than 7 metres in length.
    • Fish for black teatfish after the TAC date*.

    Information for fish receivers

    Download the letter to Torres Strait Fish Receiver Licence Holders which notifies of the determination of the TAC Date for the black teatfish fishery.

    Download the letter to Torres Strait Fish Receiver Licence Holders on the variation of their licence conditions for the 2023 black teatfish opening.

    Download the checklist for fish receivers to get ready for the 2023 black teatfish opening

    Fish receivers must:

    • Hold a current Fish Receiver Licence.
    • Ensure the receiver premises on the licence are up-to-date.
    • Only receive catches from licenced fishers.
    • Only receive catch at premises nominated on your fish receiver licence.
    • Send an image/photo of your completed catch disposal records (CDRs) electronically to AFMA on the same day you receive the catch. This means daily to:

    Fish receivers must not:

    • Receive black teatfish before 15 May 2023.
    • Receive black teatfish after the TAC date*.

    Contact information

    For more information, contact AFMA tistaff@afma.gov.au or 07 4069 1990.

    * The TAC date is the specific date and time that the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) or its delegate determines based on its reasonable belief that the TAC will be reached. All licence holders will be notified when the TAC Date is determined.

    The Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery is an important commercial fishery to Torres Strait Islanders. The fishery was based primarily on sandfish (Holothuria scabra) in the past, however harvesting of this species has been discontinued.

    Until January 2003 fishing focused on surf redfish (Actinopyga mauritiana), black teatfish (Holothuria whitmaei), white teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva) and to a lesser extent, a couple of lower value species. In January the quota for surf redfish and black teatfish was set at zero tonnes for both species, effectively closing the fishery for these two species.

    Fishing for bêche-de-mer in Torres Strait is mainly by free diving from dinghies crewed by 2-3 fishers or by hand collection along reefs at low tide. Once collected, the animal is gutted, graded, cleaned, boiled, smoked and dried. This is a labour intensive process usually carried out on processing vessels or at shore based facilities.

    Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery Map

    Map showing the area of the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery (2006)

    Read the final Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) report for the Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Fishery.

    The black teatfish industry workshop was held for fishers from the Kemer Kemer Meriam and Kulkalgal Nations to further discuss the timing for the proposed reopening of black teatfish in 2021, explain the requirements for daily catch landing and reporting that will apply to the reopening and provide the opportunity for participants to discuss cultural protocols. The workshop was Chaired and facilitated by PZJA HCWG Traditional Inhabitant (TI) member Mr Michael Passi with assistance from PZJA HCWG Traditional Inhabitant (TI) member and Malu Lamar Chairperson Mr Maluwap Nona with assistance from PZJA Finfish Working Group TI member Mr Rocky Stephen and AFMA.


    Black teatfish trial opening checklists

    4 September 2020

    Details regarding the update on black and white teatfish in the Torres Strait Beche-de-mer fishery are provided in a letter to all BDM licence holders issued on 4 September 2020.

    This includes information on:

    • CITES Appendix II listing and PZJA decision on a 20 tonne black teatfish opening
    • CITES Appendix II listing of black and white teatfish
    • PZJA decision to convene a black teatfish opening

    Download a copy of the letter sent to all Torres Strait BDM licence holders or find more information on the PZJA website notices and announcements page.

    The Beche-de-mer Harvest Strategy (BDM HS) was adopted by the PZJA at their meeting on 19 November 2019. Read more on the announcement.

    Download a copy of the Torres Strait Beche-de-mer Harvest Strategy 2019.

    The updated guide now includes information on BDM breeding season, species distributions and the ecological role of sea cucumbers.

    Download the Torres Strait Beche-de-mer (Sea cucumber) species ID guide.

    The Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) agreed at its meeting on 1 April 2019 to release the draft harvest strategy for the Torres Strait Protected Zone Beche-de-mer (BDM) Fishery for public comment. The period for submissions closed on 31 May 2019. To facilitate consultation on the draft harvest strategy, AFMA undertook a round of community visits across the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area. A copy of the report from the community visits is below.

    Report from Torres Strait Community Visits, April - May 2019 (PDF)


    Next Steps

    The PZJA Hand Collectables Working Group will consider the consultation outcomes on the draft BDM harvest strategy at their meeting (HCWG15) on Thursday Island 1-2 August 2019. The harvest strategy will then be considered by the PZJA for approval by the start of the BDM season on 1 January 2020.

    A copy of the draft harvest strategy together with frequently asked questions (FAQs) about harvest strategies and an overview of the BDM harvest strategy are below. 

    Further copies of these documents may also be obtained by contacting the AFMA Torres Strait Office on 07 4069 1990 or by email to FisheriesTI@afma.gov.au.

    Bêche-de-mer are especially susceptible to overfishing because they are large, easily seen and collected and do not require sophisticated fishing techniques. As a result the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery is subject to a suite of input and output controls aimed at preventing overfishing but also allowing Islanders to benefit from the use of bêche-de-mer stocks.

    Sandfish has been subject to excessive levels of fishing effort during the early 1990's and 1995 in particular. It is a high value species occurring in relatively shallow waters and as a result is vulnerable to over-harvesting.

    Following concerns of serious resource depletion and overexploitation of sandfish stocks on Warrior Reef, four fishery independent surveys were commissioned to assess the level of reduction in sandfish abundance in 1995/1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002.

    The collection of sandfish, which was harvested primarily for export, has been prohibited since early 1998 following recommendations from CSIRO researchers undertaking the surveys that the remaining stock on Warrior Reef was approximately 80% less than in November 1995.

    In 1995, the status of sandfish stocks were considered overexploited, therefore the subsequent reduction indicated a serious depletion. The survey also led to the introduction of severe management measures. Further fishing pressure on sandfish may have led to a total collapse of the stock and a continued closure was recognised as the only feasible strategy for rehabilitation.

    A third survey of the sandfish population on Warrior Reef was undertaken by CSIRO in January 2000. The work revealed that sandfish stocks are still severely depleted with only a very slight recovery having taken place since the extremely low abundance recorded in 1998.

    The most recent (2002) survey found that there was a modest recovery of the stock from 2000 levels, primarily on the southern parts of the reef, however overall the abundance was still only about 40 percent of the 1995 level. Based on the surveys there was no recommendation for the PZJA to open the sandfish to exploitation.

    Based on the 2002 survey undertaken by CSIRO that also took in the eastern reefs of Torres Strait the PZJA was advised that the black teatfish and surf redfish had experienced significant declines in abundance. Based on this advice the PZJA closed the fishery for these species by setting zero TACs for them.

    Under the previous management and licensing structure, Islanders from 12 communities harvested bêche-de-mer for commercial purposes, along with one non-Islander licence holder. Following arrangements that placed the fishery under Commonwealth Law 178 Traditional Inhabitant vessels are presently licensed for the fishery in addition to the one non-islander licence holder.

    Objectives adopted for the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery are:

    • to provide for the sustainable use of all bêche-de-mer stocks in Torres Strait;
    • develop bêche-de-mer stocks for the benefit of Australian Traditional Inhabitants (as defined by the Torres Strait Treaty); and
    • develop an appropriate long term management strategy for sandfish.

    Experience elsewhere in the Pacific indicates recovery of overfished sea cucumber stocks is a lengthy process taking several years.

    In the Torres Strait Bêche-de-mer Fishery, participation is limited to Traditional Inhabitants with the exception of one long-term non-Islander operator who was active in the fishery prior to the introduction of licence limitation in the fishery in late 1995.

    Regulations implemented in the fishery include:

    • limiting the method of taking bêche-de-mer to either hand or hand held non-mechanical implement;
    • a ban on the use of hookah or SCUBA gear;
    • limiting dinghies to less than 7 metres in length;
    • limiting the activities of the one non-Islander licensed operator to primarily involve the participation of Islanders in those activities;
    • a competitive Total Allowable Catch (TAC) (measured in wet weight gutted) at 30 June 2003 for the following species:


    Total allowable catch limits

    Fish species Tonnes
    White teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva) 15
    Prickly redfish (Theleonata ananas) 15
    Deepwater redfish (Actinopyga echinites) 5
    Hairy blackfish (Actinopyga miliaris) 5
    Greenfish (Stichopus chloronatus) 40
    Curryfish species (Stichopus herrmanni, Svastus and S. occellatus) 60 combined TAC (basket)
    Black teatfish (Holothuria whitmaei) 0 (CLOSED)
    Surf redfish (Actinopyga mauritania) 0 (CLOSED)
    Sandfish (Holothuria scabra) 0 (CLOSED)
    All other BDM species (inc. those in the families Holothuridae and Stichopidae) 50
    Total 190


    Minimum size limits

    Minimum size limits for mm
    Sandfish 180
    Lollyfish 150
    Black teatfish 250
    White teatfish 320
    Elephant's trunk fish 240
    Prickly redfish 300
    Deepwater redfish 200
    Surf redfish 220
    Black fish 220
    Curry fish 310


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    Page last updated: 13/06/2023