Rise in global demand for marine products, new fishing technology, pollution, population stress and climate change are disrupting Torres Strait fisheries and significantly impacting on people's livelihoods.
Traditional fisheries and livelihoods in Torres Straight under threat
Communities on the Papua New Guinea (PNG) side of the Torres Strait depend on local fisheries for daily sustenance and also for much needed income generation. Disruptions to these fisheries have significant impacts on people's livelihoods.
A rise in global demand for marine products, new technology increasing the catch, pollution from (old and new) mining operations, climate change and population pressures are all having a significant impact on marine resources, social cohesion and traditional practices, particularly in PNG.
Sea level rise has affected low-lying coastal communities, and locals fear they will eventually need to relocate. Australia and PNG made a treaty in 1985 to protect customs, conserve the environment and promote sustainable development in the border zone of the Torres Strait.
A collaborative boost supports scientific knowledge and management strategies
CSIRO researchers have been working to characterise the traditional small-scale fisheries on the PNG side of the Torres Strait.
This enables them to assess the impact of fisheries on marine resources shared between Australian and PNG and to understand the importance of these fisheries for the livelihoods of local communities. By comparing their results with a similar CSIRO study from 1995, researchers have been able to assess how fisheries have changed, both as a result of environmental stressors, and how communities are now interacting with them.
Researchers have worked closely with local people to build their capacity to manage their fisheries. They have also been working to improve the dialogue between community members and fisheries management organisations, both within PNG and across the border to Australia.
CSIRO, with the PNG National Fisheries Authority and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, are now looking at how to provide communities with the necessary scientific skills and knowledge to manage and sustain their fish resources in a fast-changing world.
Research provides insight for local communities
The research provides a sound understanding of the specific fisheries problems. Despite double the fishing effort, total catch has increased by only 20 per cent. Catch of reef fish has declined relative to effort, suggesting over exploitation of stocks.
Although freshwater catch has increased more than fishing effort, the catch is new exotic freshwater fish, presenting an ecosystem problem. Coastal catch has increased relative to effort, following the recovery of the barramundi fishery after its collapse in the 1990s.
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