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Assessing dugong stocks.

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DAFF04/219MJ - 8 November 2004

Australian Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation - Senator Ian Macdonald Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage - Senator Ian Campbell

Assessing dugong stocks

Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell, and Fisheries and Conservation Minister Senator Ian Macdonald, have announced the traditional harvest of turtles and dugongs in the Torres Strait will be assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

The decision comes ahead of a report due to be released today (Monday November 8) titled Dugong Distribution and Abundance in Torres Strait, prepared for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority by dugong expert Dr Helene Marsh, which says current harvesting levels may be excessive.

The report's findings, to be published in the journal Animal Conservation, claim that the current level of harvest of dugongs (estimated at 1,000 annually) by traditional inhabitants in the region of the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ), is unsustainable. The sustainable harvest is only likely to be in the order of 100-200 dugongs annually, it says.

"Dugongs are culturally, spiritually and economically significant to many coastal Indigenous communities and are a precious part of Australia's biodiversity," Senator Campbell said.

"The assessment of the dugong and turtle fishery will help ensure that Indigenous harvest of dugong and turtle in the region is managed in a sustainable manner."

Senator Macdonald said all Australians would agree that ensuring dugong sustainability was essential to balance both conservational and cultural outcomes.

"Eighteen months ago, when the recreational and indigenous fishing survey was completed, I expressed concerns at the unsustainable harvest of the animal," he said.

"This report commissioned as a result of that survey confirms that the animal is in real danger if something is not done.

"As chairman of the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA), I have an obligation to work with Torres Strait leaders to stop the unsustainable slaughter of these very special animals."

Senator Campbell said the strategic assessment of the dugong and turtle fishery will add to the suite of initiatives the Australian Government is involved in to ensure dugong and turtle populations are around for future generations.

For example, a number of projects have already been established under the Natural Heritage Trust, including a $3.8 million cross-regional project, which aims to directly engage Indigenous communities in the sustainable management of dugong and marine turtle populations.

"These projects aim to improve our knowledge of the ecology of the dugong and marine turtles," Senator Campbell said.

Further media inquiries:

Senator Macdonald's office: David Crisafulli (07) 4771 3066 or 0400 144 483 Senator Campbell's office: Wayne Grant (02) 6277 7640 or 0407 845 280

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