Torres Strait Islanders and fisheries
An analysis of economic development programs
Bill Arthur, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, The Australian National University
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISBN 1 8770 4367 2
About the publication
Torres Strait is a complex region not least because it straddles the international border with Papua New Guinea and is subject to the rather unique Torres Strait Treaty (the Treaty) arrangements with that country. The Treaty (ratified in 1985) has multiple objectives which include within its spirit the economic benefit or development of the traditional inhabitants (for the purposes of this project Torres Strait Islanders) through involvement in the region’s fisheries.
The Treaty delineates a Torres Strait Protected Zone and the associated Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 (the Act) creates the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) which gives effect to many of the marine related aspects of the Treaty within or near that Zone (in reality, over most of the area commonly known as Torres Strait). In its earliest form the PZJA was composed of the relevant Australian and Queensland Ministers; more recently it has included the chair of the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA); the only Indigenous regional authority in the country. The PZJA is supported by a system of advisory committees and working groups made of representatives drawn from the worlds of fisheries research and industry (Islander and non-Islander) and its secretariat is the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).
One of the PZJA’s advisory groups is the Torres Strait Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). The SAC’s role has been to advise the PZJA on relevant research and a major funder of this research has been AFMA. The SAC has generally (though not entirely) directed research at issues to do with the health of the stock of the marine resource. In the last few years the SAC has been merged with the ‘CRC Reef’, a cooperative research centre based in Townsville, so forming the Torres Strait CRC (TSCRC). This has injected a new set of researchers and funders of research into the Torres Strait which is now part of the system providing advice to the PZJA. The TSRA is a partner and funder of the new TSCRC. In this way the TSRA is now a member of the PZJA (alongside the Ministers) and a member (and funder) of the group advising the PZJA on directions and priorities for research.
Concurrent with these structural changes has been a proposed change in direction for the SAC and the TSCRC so as to include more fully the field of socio-economics and thus to engage with the developmental aspects of the Treaty, noted above. The Torres Strait fishery itself is made up of a number of species (prawns, tropical rock lobster [TRL] beche de mer [BDM] mackerel, and various reef fish). The extent to which these species and others are part of the fishery is variable and depends on market demand. The fishery is made up at least two sectors based on ethnicity (Islander and non-Islander). It also has two major sub-divisions: a commercial fishery (involving Islanders and non- Islanders) and a traditional or customary fishery (involving only Islanders) within which species are taken not for sale but for consumption by Islanders).
The overall aim of this project was to investigate the factors that appear to hinder the furtherance of the aims of the Treaty and the Act and the programs operating in Torres Strait that appear to further (or not as the case may be) these aims. More particularly the aims of the project fall into four areas:
- one is associated with the relationship between Islander commercial and traditional fishing and an Indigenous-specific program of the Australian Government called the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme (this is ostensibly a ‘work-for-the-dole’ scheme)
- a second is associated with impediments to the increased involvement of Islanders in commercial fishing
- a third is associated with the possible way(s) in which programs might be better aligned to increase Islander involvement in commercial fishing
- a fourth is aimed at identifying gaps or overlap in programs that might promote Islander involvement in commercial fishing