Supporting local management of threatened Torres Strait fisheries

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.

The Challenge

Traditional fisheries and livelihoods in Torres Straight under threat

Managing fisheries for sustainable livelihoods in the Torres Strait

Show transcript

[Music plays and camera pans over a pile of fishing nets and then moves to show the homes and people of a village]

Narrator: Just a few miles of sea separate Western Province of Papua New Guinea from the Australian Torres Strait Islands.

[Image changes to show a picture of each of the habitats as described below]

The waters between the two countries boast diverse marine ecosystems - mangroves, sea grasses and coral reefs.

[Image changes to show an aerial shot of a coral reef and then changes to show an aerial shot of an island]

[Image changes to show a native ceremony, music and singing can be heard]

As well sharing the sea and its resources, people on both sides of the boarder have centuries of common culture, traditions and long standing family bonds.

[Image changes to show a map highlighting the Torres Straits and Papua New Guinea areas]

With this in mind, the Torres Straits Treaty between the two countries was established in 1985 to protect traditional customs, conserve the environment and promote sustainable development.

[Time lapse footage of fishing boats coming and going play on screen]

[Image changes to show three raised Papua New Guinean flags]

It’s the Papua New Guinean side that’s the focus of a CSIRO project characterising traditional small scale fisheries.

[Image changes to show three men deploying fishing net and then shows them bringing in their catch]

[Image changes to show data being collected on different fish species]

Funded by NFA and AFMA, the PNG and Australian Fisheries Management Authorities the project collected data and information to assess the impacts of fisheries on marine resources shared between the two countries, and to understand the importance that these fisheries have for the livelihoods of local communities.

[Image changes to show three local women washing out pots at the seas shore]

[Image changes to show Dr Sara Busilacchi, Research scientist, CSIRO]

Dr Sara Busilacchi: To have a real assessment of the status of marine resources in the region, we need to have a clear picture of what was happening in the two sides of the Treaty Island. The Torres Strait and the PNG side of the Treaty Islands have very different socioeconomic conditions.

[Image changes to show a woman seated and operating a hand held device and then moves to show inside a supermarket]

[Image has changed back to Dr Busilacchi]

While Torres Strait can enjoy a western lifestyle on the PNG side, people fish for their survival, to allow to eat every day and to have a [indistinct – 1.55] for the main needs of their families.

[Image has changed back to show houses and people of Papua New Guinean village]

[Image changes to show Joseph Posu, Fisheries management officer, NFA]

Joseph Posu: Western Province is very dependent on fishing, this is one of the main reasons today this Province, especially in South Fly, has very limited agricultural land

[Image changes to an aerial shot of a river surrounded by dense forest]

 as the place is always inundated and you also have a lot of estuaries and waterways.

[Image has changed back to Joseph]

A lot of people depend on fishing for daily sustenance and also for economic purposes, to make money for school fees, special occasions.

[Image changes back to show a Papua New Guinea village, a man is dragging two very large fish along the shore and then changes back to Joseph]

Fishing activities disrupted, it affects a big part of their life.

[Image changes to show a group of men weighing their caught fish]

Narrator: In the last few decades the move from a traditional to a cash economy has had a profound impact on the way people fish.

[Image changes to show Stanley Jogo, Provincial Fisheries manager, Western Province]

Stanley Jogo: Previously they were using traditional methods for their [indistinct words – 2.49], but now with the higher demand, or the need to buy food and all this, they’re going to new nets and all the new technology that increases the volume of fish that is coming in, and resulting also with the reduction of stock along the coast.

[Image changes to show a house built on the shore of a beach]

Narrator: Modern technology has coincided with a strong global demand for marine products, including high value products such as fish bladder

[Image changes to show eight fish bladders laid on a wire rack]

shark fin

[Image changes to show shark fins laid on a wire rack]

and sea cucumber

[Image changes to show a bucket of sea cucumbers]

[Image changes to show Mark Bize standing and talking to a number of people seated at a table]

Mark Bize is a village leader in Bula, a remote community close to the border with Indonesian, West Papua

[Image changes to show Mark Bize, Bula village community leader]

Mark Bize: The only way the people in my community make money is through fish products and dried fish products that we sell to Indonesian buyers who come over.

[Image changes to show a fisherman removing a fish bladder]

Indonesians are only interested in the fish bladder, the Barramundi bladder, the Jewfish bladder and shark fins.

[Image changes to show a person holding up three shark fins]

[Image has changed back to Mark]

Well the rest of the fish, when it’s still fresh the community takes it for their supper, and if they are already dead then it is thrown away.

[Image changes to show men cleaning a large amount of lobsters. The camera zooms in on the pile of disregarded sections of the lobsters]

Narrator: While there’s been a sharp rise in demand for marine resources, there’s also been a significant growth in the number of people making a living from the sea.

[Image changes to back to a village shot, lots of people can be seen walking around]

For years toxic sediment from the Ok Tedi mine in the highlands of Western Province

[Image changes to show the a map, marking where the Fly River flows]

has swept down the Fly River impacting villages on its banks.

[Image changes to show a shot of one of the villages that’s on the bank of the Fly River]

That combined with a severe lack of services and infrastructure in those remote areas has driven thousands of people to settle in Daru, the coastal hub.

[Image has changed to show Gabriel Apai, Kiwai Islands fishermen representative, Daru]

Gabriel Apai: Our people left because of the pollution experiences and the damages caused to our waters, our garden crops, they migrated to Daru around the 90s.

[Image changes to show different pictures of people moving about the city and then moves back to Gabriel]

These people their livelihood is in the sea. They’re everyday fishermen, they go out to the main reef, which we share, catch fish, come down here and sell for their daily earnings and the survival of their children.

[Image changes back to show pictures of people and their houses in a village]

 And there has been a bit of dispute, because of them migrating here and staying here, and even using the Great Reef, where the reef doesn’t belong to the people of Fly River, but what should our people do?

[Image changes to show Reginald Sampson, Deputy Chairman, Daru Pioneer Association]

Reginald Sampson: We have those new settlers who came to Daru from the outback villages. They’re also fishing in the same traditional fishing grounds. So the traditional owners just cannot control, everyone is fishing together.

[Image changes to show men preparing fishing nets on shore]

Narrator: While population pressures are having an impact, climate change is also making its mark. Sea level rise is evident on the low lying coast line.

[Camera pans over a disused wharf and a beached fishing boat]

[Image changes to show Sagi Wasu, Village elder, Tureture]

Sagi Wasu: The village was right out, about 100-metres out, and then just because of the situation that we’re facing, especially with waves and winds, that’s why, we were driven back.

[Camera pans over a graveyard and tombstones and then moves back to show Sagi]

So we may be looking for relocation, ‘cause I don’t think that it’s going to be stopped, we are still being driven back.

[Image changes to show sea cumbers being prepared and cooked over a fire]

Narrator: Illegal fishing is also on the rise.

[Image has changed back to Joseph Posu]

[Image continues to show sea cumbers being cleaned and prepped and then shows a lot of them being cooked on an open fire]

Joseph Posu: You have a lot of illegal fishing going on, especially with the closure of the [indistinct name – 6.31], currently we have the [indistinct - 6.32] enclosure, this closure,

[Image has changed back to Joseph Posu]

although it’s in place for the past three years, this hasn’t been really effective in the Province, because of the current illegal activities, that’s still ongoing.

[Camera pans over a selection of fish set out on tables with dollar amounts in front of them]

Narrator: The effect of these myriad pressures on fisheries is reflected in a decline in the abundance and size of marine products.

[Image has changed back to Stanley Jogo]

Stanley Jogo: There has been a big reduction in the size, especially, the size of the fish that’s been brought to the market.

[Image has changed back to Reginald Sampson]

Reginald Sampson: We are coming to the problem that we are running out of fish. Fish have to be left to grow, to nurture. But there’s no time for nurturing, we’re fishing every day.

[Image changes back to show lots of people in what appears to be a fish market]

Narrator: Given the very real pressures on fisheries, the involvement of communities and stakeholders was a priority for the project.

[Image changes to show people gathered together in discussion and then changes to show Dr Sara Busilacchi]

Dr Sara Busilacchi: One of the first steps was that of capacity building and having local people involved in the field work and in the collection process, and to make people understand the importance, that projects like this, they have to understand how to better manage the fisheries, which can sustain people’s livelihoods today, but also in the future.

[Image changes to show people gathered together, Joseph Posu is standing at the front of the room talking]

Another priority of the project, was that of being able to put them in touch, communities with management authorities, so to create a continuous dialogue in-between the two parts.

[Image has changed back to Joseph Posu]

Joseph Posu: This project has been very successful. We’ve seen a lot of positive feedback from a lot of the communities; they really appreciate us going around.

[Image changes to show the homes and people of a village and then changes to show a group of children gathered together and digging for something in the sand]

It is a really good thing that we can always come back, come down to the community level and really understand what’s happening in the community and the fisheries.

[Image changes to show men holding shark fins and moves to show men showing other examples of the fish they’ve caught]

Narrator: CSIRO and NFA are now looking at how to provide communities with the necessary scientific skills and knowledge to manage and sustain their marine resources in this fast changing world.

[Image has changed back to Joseph Posu]

Joseph Posu: We want the resource owners to continue to use their fishing resources, but we do want to see depleted in a short time or in the years to come, we want something that’s sustainable, that’s continuously useful and that continues to sustain the lives of people who depend heavily on it.

[Image changes to show a shot of a village, people are walking around and the sea with a boat moving across it can be seen in the background]

[Music plays and sponsors logos appear on screen]

[Credits: Video shot, edited and narrated by Tom Greenwood www.greenwoodphotos.com]

Hide transcript

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.

Our Response

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.

Measuring Queenfish at a fish market in 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.

The Results

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.

Freshwater fish at a market on Daru Island, Papua New Guinea

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