The commercial sea cucumber species known as Sandfish (Holothuria scabra) occurs intertidally and subtidally in the Northern Territory of Australia, on or adjacent to Aboriginal land. A 4-yr program of community-based fisheries research with Aboriginal Australians was implemented to assess the viability of indigenous Australians’ involvement in the wild-stock fishery. The research involved extensive and intensive indigenous participation, unusual in Australian biophysical sciences research, during field survey and habitat mapping, complemented by commercial catch data modelling and discussion of its implications. Field surveys produced Sandfish distribution and site-specific density, and revealed some areas that were not commercially fished. Catch data modelling results suggested that no additional effort could be sustained, however commercial fishers increased their effort, expanding their operations into the newly mapped areas. These actions effectively precluded indigenous peoples’ aspirations of entry into the commercial fishery. The efficacy and outcomes of participatory program design with indigenous Australians need critique in the absence of the political will and statutory backing to provide equitable access to resources.
Journal of Environmental Management / Vol. 85, no. 4, pp.866-875