CSIRO researchers are studying the Torres Strait tropical rock lobster fishery to develop a scientific approach to integrate cultural factors into natural resource management.

The challenge

Balancing commerce and culture

Fisheries management traditionally involves balancing commercial gain and sustainability, but for Indigenous communities cultural and lifestyle factors can be just as important and these factors are more difficult to measure.

Panulirus ornatus, the tropical rock lobster.

The Torres Strait tropical rock lobster fishery has many stakeholders, including non-Indigenous commercial fishers and Indigenous fishers who fish for subsistence through to commercial reasons. The social objectives of the fishery are spelled out in a treaty between Australia and Papua New Guinea that acknowledges and protects the traditional fishing practices of Indigenous people.

Often research into fisheries management has focused on commercial businesses and overlooked the unique characteristics of Indigenous fishers.

Our response

Understanding trade-offs

We brought together a range of sophisticated methods, from mathematics and modelling to social science interviews, to allow managers to understand the potential trade-offs when making a management decision that affects not only a resource but also the people who depend on it.

While market-based management options score highly in a capitalistic society, in the communities we worked with we found that equity and a sense of self-determination underpin successful management.

This work was jointly funded with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and involved extensive consultations with Indigenous fishers, as well as other sectors and managers. It builds on a long history of involvement in the Torres Strait.

The results

Culturally sensitive natural resource management

We have developed an objective scientific approach that reflects the importance of cultural considerations in Indigenous communities. It also takes into account these communities are often driven by considerations that are not economic.

This approach can be applied to natural resource management beyond fisheries.

Panulirus ornatus - The ornate or tropical rock lobster.  ©CSIRO, Robert Kerton

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