Torres Strait Finfish (Reef Line) Fishery

Map showing the area of the Torres Strait Finfish Fishery (2006)

Note: The Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Management Plan 2013 has now come into effect and can be accessed on the ComLaw website.

The Torres Strait Finfish (Reef Line) Fishery is a multi-species fishery with a range of reef fish being targeted. The fishery focuses primarily on the highly valued coral trout (Plectropomus spp.), and mixed reef fish (Lutjanus spp. and Lethrinus spp.), and numerous species of rock cods (Epinephelus spp.). Barramundi are also fished within the Torres Strait but is limited to the territorial waters adjacent to the six Australian islands in the north west of Torres Strait near the Papua New Guinea coast: Saibai, Boigu, Moimi, Kaumag, Aubusi and Dauan.

Finfish are generally taken by hand lines and since December 2005 the use of nets for commercial fishing has been banned throughout the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ) and the outside but near area. The use of nets for traditional fishing is still allowed.

Barramundi are fished from the inland swamps and shorelines of these islands. The catch is taken through the use of hand spears and hand set monofilament gill nets. The fishery is mainly exploited for subsistence and there are no recent records of commercial sale within this fishery.

During 2007-2008 a voluntary buy-back of all non-Traditional Inhabitant licenses was undertaken in the Torres Strait Reef Line Fishery which transferred all catch entitlements to the Traditional Inhabitant sector. These entitlements are held in trust by the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA). Entry into the fishery is limited to Traditional Inhabitants so as to maximise their economic development and employment opportunities, however non-Traditional Inhabitant fishers can still participate in the fishery through leasing of a temporary licence administered by the TSRA. Leasing arrangements include agreed conditions for fishing in the fishery including a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and area closures.

Catch entitlements are also held aside to provide for catch sharing arrangements for Papua New Guinea if required.

A Finfish Working Group has been established to provide advice to the PZJA on issue related to the Reef Line Fishery.

Management objectives

The objectives for the Torres Strait Finfish (Reef Line) Fishery have been developed in conjunction with the objectives of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 and the Torres Strait Treaty. The objectives are:

  • to manage the resource so as to achieve optimum utilisation;
  • to maximise opportunities for Traditional Inhabitants of Australia and PNG to participate in the commercial fishery;

Management arrangements

Many of the management arrangements for the Spanish Mackerel Fishery are included in Prohibition relating to the Taking, Processing and Carrying of Finfish (Gear, Size and Area Restrictions and Take and Carry Limit) including :

  • fishing method is restricted to line fishing (unless in the course of traditional fishing) with no more than 6 hooks attached to each line;
  • no more than 3 fishing apparatus can be used per boat;
  • commercial net fishing with a net other than a bait net is prohibited (see FMI No.8 for bait net specifications);
  • minimum size limits apply to all species taken commercially and maximum size limits apply to some species (see FMI No.8 for specific details);
  • a seasonal barramundi closure exists (for commercial fishing) from midday 1 November each year to midday 1 February the following year;
  • a permanent area closure by net fishing methods in that part of the finfish fishery west of 142°09’, and in part of the fishery east of 142°09’ and north of 10°28’;
  • a permanent closure by line fishing methods in the area of the fishery west of 142°31’49” (except in the course of traditional fishing);
  • vessels must be less than 20 metres in length;
  • the removal of fins from a shark and subsequently disposing of its torso is prohibited; and
  • the following species are listed as no take species:
No Take Species
Potato Cod (Epinephelus tukula)
Queensland Groper (Epinephelus lanceolatus)
Chinaman Fish (Symphorus nematophorus)
Paddletail (Lutjanus gibbus)
Humphead Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini)
Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus)
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

A management plan for the Torres Strait Finfish (Reef Line) Fishery is currently under development. The management plan will also include arrangements for the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery. In the interim, the existing management arrangements continue to apply to all fishers as per Prohibition relating to the Taking, Processing and Carrying of Finfish (Gear, Size and Area Restrictions and Take and Carry Limit).

Condition of the fishery

Catch levels in the Torres Strait Finfish (Reef Line) Fishery have significantly declined since 2004 and in 2009 the fishery was considered to be under exploited This reflects the reduced effort and number of operations in the fishery since the voluntary buy-back in 2007-2008. The current status of the stocks in the TSPZ is not considered to be overfished or subject to overfishing (BRS, 2010).

In 2010, 145 Traditional Inhabitant boat licences with reef line entries were issued to Traditional Inhabitants however few actively participated in the fishery during that year. A small number of non-Traditional Inhabitants participate in the fishery under leasing arrangements and operate under a quota.

An unknown quantity of reef fish is taken each year during the course of traditional fishing.

With respect to barramundi, it is unknown how many are harvested in a season from the swamps on Boigu and Saibai, although the numbers are thought to have remained low over recent years. All harvested swamp barramundi are under legal commercial size limits and are eaten locally.

In 2007 the PZJA agreed on a nominal TAC of 134.9 tonnes for Coral Trout for the entire Protected Zone. This TAC is used as a guide by managers and stakeholders to monitor the fishery.

Strategic Assessment

The Torres Strait Finfish (Reef Line) Fishery was strategically assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 during 2008 and was formally accredited as a Wildlife Trade Operation in late November 2008. The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities also provided a number of recommendations to improve the sustainability of the fishery. The export accreditation has been extended to 23 November 2012 whilst the fishery is re-assessed. Strategic Assessment reports can be found on the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website.