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Optimising the management of tropical reef fish through the development of indigenous scientific capability

Project Number:



Department of Primary Industry and Resources (NT)

Principal Investigator:

Thor Saunders

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:



Communities, Environment, Industry, People


Tropical reef fish species are popular targets by both the commercial and recreational fishing sectors and are increasingly becoming the focus in developing indigenous fisheries. They are highly prone to overexploitation because of their vulnerable biology, aggregative nature and susceptibility to barotrauma related injuries upon release. In the Northern Territory (NT), these issues have resulted in the substantial declines of key reef species around population centres and managers have been unable to apply appropriate arrangements due to a lack of knowledge on the stock structure, unknown levels of recreational harvest and contested resource ownership and access rights. It is clear that the knowledge gap on stock structure needs to be filled to move towards the spatial management needed to ensure the sustainability of the reef fish resources as well as their optimal allocation amongst sectors. However, the exploitation of reef fish in remote areas of the NT is increasing due to an expanding recreational fleet, new mining and gas developments placing increased population in these areas and aspirations by the indigenous sector to develop fisheries on these species. While gaining information on stock structure of key reef fish species will greatly aid the sustainable development of fisheries in this area there is still the requirement to ensure regular collection of biological data to monitor these stocks. The most efficient method of obtaining this information is to train indigenous rangers/community members by developing an appropriately certified course. By underpinning the course with the stock structure component of this project, students will also receive skills to assist with co-management and developing sustainable indigenous fisheries. This project addresses the number one NTFRAB research priority on reef fish biology as well as NT and cross-jurisdictional priorities on indigenous development.


1. Gain information on stock structure of key tropical reef fish species

2. Develop indigenous capability in scientific monitoring and participation in co-management through the development of a certified training program

3. Identify appropriate spatial scale of management for tropical reef fish based on biological sustainability and sectoral aspirations

Final Report - 2013-017-DLD Optimising the Management of tropical reef fish through the development of Indigenous scientific capability

Final Report
Author(s):Thor Saunders
Date Published:May 2017
Principal Investigator: Thor Saunders
Keywords: NT, stock, Black Jewfish, Grass Emperor, Golden Snapper, Indigenous, Rangers, training
Summary: This project was a collaborative undertaking between government research agencies and universities across northern Australia. The project examined the stock structure of key tropical reef fish species as well as using this research as a basis to develop a certified training course for Indigenous community members. Both of these outputs addressed key needs of filling a knowledge gap in the biology of important fish species to assist with their sustainable management as well as providing increased research capacity within Indigenous communities.