Indigenous subsistence fishing at Injinoo Aboriginal Community, northern Cape York Peninsula

Phelan, Michael John (2005) Indigenous subsistence fishing at Injinoo Aboriginal Community, northern Cape York Peninsula. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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This study responded to concerns expressed by Elders from Injinoo Aboriginal Community regarding the apparent increase in fishing effort targeting aggregations of black jewfish (Protonibea diacanthus) in the waters of Northern Cape York Peninsula. In addition to studying black jewfish, I also examined the harvest of all aquatic resources utilised by the Indigenous subsistence fishers of Injinoo Aboriginal Community. This dual approach was adopted to help alleviate the deficit of data on Indigenous subsistence fishing in Australia.

The Indigenous subsistence fishing survey: This component of my study was guided by the Indigenous Subsistence Fishing Survey Kit developed by Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, and the Queensland Environment Protection Agency. Background surveys were conducted in December 1998 and revealed that the vast majority of households at Injinoo regularly harvested marine or freshwater resources for subsistence purposes. Most participated in subsistence harvesting activities on a weekly (64%) or daily (13%) basis, with fishing, hunting and gathering effort extending from Shelburne Bay (11° 49' S, 142° 58' E: see Figure 1.1) on the east coast, to Vrilya Point (11° 23’ S, 142° 12’ E: see Figure 1.1) on the west coast.

Interview surveys were also conducted in December 1998. They revealed the residents of Injinoo held a clear preference for Indigenous members of their Community to undertake the monitoring surveys. Subsequently, several members of the Community were trained according to the survey kit. The monitoring surveys commenced in January 1999 and continued through to August 2000. Each month, between three to five days was randomly chosen for surveying, providing a total of 70 survey days.

The monitoring surveys revealed that the Indigenous subsistence fishers of Injinoo harvested a diverse range of resources. Survey facilitators recorded the harvest of 75 marine and freshwater animal taxa. The five most frequently harvested taxa were mullet (Family Mugilidae), sweetlip (Lethrinus spp.), stripey (Lutjanus vitta), snapper (Lutjanus spp.) and black jewfish. While seasonal trends were evident, it was not possible to define the start or end of these periods, or to demonstrate any annual variation.

Ten different types of harvesting activities were identified during the monitoring surveys. Handline fishing was the most frequent activity (57% of 491 hours recorded), followed by dugong hunting (15%), turtle hunting (9%) and netting (9%). The mean duration of harvesting trips varied between 0.5 hours when collecting turtle eggs or molluscs, to four hours when hunting dugong. The mean number of people participating in each type of activity was four, with males dominating vessel-based activities and participating exclusively in hunting activities.

Harvest rates were highly variable, with netting resulting in the greatest return to the individual fisher (2.7 fish/person hr-1). Fishers often worked as groups in harvesting activities targeting crustaceans (4.6 crustaceans/boat hr⁻¹), molluscs (34.3 molluscs/boat hr⁻¹), and turtle eggs (3.4 nest/boat hr⁻¹). The catch rate for turtle hunting (0.42 turtle/boat hr⁻¹) was higher than that for dugong hunting (0.2 dugong/boat hr⁻¹).

This study demonstrated the willingness of an Indigenous community to participate in monitoring programs assessing their use of aquatic resources when the research is conducted in an appropriate manner. Opportunity should be taken to replicate this program in other coastal Indigenous communities of Queensland and beyond. This survey should be repeated at Injinoo Aboriginal Community as soon as possible to assess if any changes have occurred in the fishery.

Black jewfish assessments: In 1999 and 2000, over eight tonnes of black jewfish were harvested from the waters of the Northern Cape York Peninsula. During that period, the mean total length (TL) of the harvested fish decreased significantly (P<0.001) from 70-80 cm in 1999 to 59-69 cm in 2000. Historical accounts collated during this study revealed that black jewfish close to their maximum size (150-180 cm TL) were last caught in 1994.

Sexually mature black jewfish composed only 4.4% of fish in a sampling program biased towards the largest individuals (n = 270). Sexually mature ovaries were observed in specimens sampled from aggregations in the period between May and September 2000. However, no ripe or spent gonads were found, so the timing and location of the spawning season in northern Australian remain unknown.

Food items observed in black jewfish included a variety of teleosts and invertebrates; supporting the 'opportunistic predator' description of Rao (1963). The limited data gained in this study presented no evidence to support the notion that the seasonal migration of black jewfish is related to the increased availability of prey items in the inshore waters, as is suggested by Thomas and Kunja (1981).

Tag returns revealed that some of the fish remain at, or return to, the aggregation site at least into the following day, and revealed the movement of a fish between two aggregation sites. If this behaviour is normal for black jewfish, this activity may increase their susceptibility to capture. Since tag returns were scant (2.6%), this interpretation must be treated with caution. The low tag return rate contrasted with the 100% retention of tags in the captive tagging trial.

DNA fingerprinting using the amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) technique revealed no significant genetic variation in fish sampled from adjacent aggregation sites at Muttee Head (10° 54' S, 142° 13' E: see Figure 1.1) and Peak Point (10° 43' S, 142° 25' E: see Figure 1.1). On a larger scale, black jewfish sampled from Northern Cape York Peninsula and the Northern Territory were found to comprise one homogeneous population (GST 0.046).

In response to these findings, the Injinoo Land Trust self-imposed a two-year ban on the harvest of black jewfish in the area from Crab Island (10° 58' S, 142° 06' E: see Figure 1.1) to Albany Island (10° 43' S, 142° 36' E: see Figure 1.1). This initiative developed into a regional agreement, and amendments to the Fisheries Regulation 1995. However, the closed water amendments were not applied to Indigenous fishers, even though the Chairman from each of the Communities in the region had requested this arrangement.

The significance of this voluntary closure was acknowledged by the project's principal funding agency, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC). The inside cover of the agency’s 2001-2002 Annual Report lists this outcome as one of the four most significant of the year from a total of 768 projects under FRDC management (FRDC 2003). The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation also provided additional funding to continue monitoring the status of the black jewfish stock.

All parties to the regional agreement recognised that the two year closure was unlikely to provide for the complete recovery of the proportion of adult fish in the population. Hence, they requested further studies be undertaken. Further sampling in 2002 and 2003 revealed the size of black jewfish in the study area had increased significantly (mean size 103.5 cm TL). However, in contrast to previous years, black jewfish were difficult to catch, and so concern for the future of the fishery remains warranted.

Item ID: 1281
Item Type: Thesis (Masters (Research))
Keywords: harvest of aquatic resources by indigenous subsistence fishers, Injinoo Aboriginal community, Indigenous subsistence fishing survey kit, mullet, family Mugilidae, Sweetlip, Lethrinus spp., stripey, Lutjanus vitta, snapper, Lutjanus spp., handline fishing, dugong and turtle hunting, netting, harvest rates, subsistence harvesting activities, black jewfish, Protonibea diacanthus, peak reproductive activity, aggregations, diet, mark and recapture, homogeneous population, Northern Cape York Peninsula
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2005 Michael John Phelan.
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2006
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 33%
07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0704 Fisheries Sciences > 070402 Aquatic Ecosystem Studies and Stock Assessment @ 34%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 33%
SEO Codes: 83 ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8302 Fisheries - Wild Caught > 830204 Wild Caught Fin Fish (excl. Tuna) @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 50%
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