Trochus shell buttons – product of a sustainable fisheries industry
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which runs some interesting partnerships between Australia and developing countries, has recently ‘come to light’.
Because many of ACIAR’s projects involve areas with similar climates and ecology to Australia’s tropical north, it is sometimes involved with Indigenous communities as the Australian ‘side’ of the projects. The main areas of involvement here have been in fisheries and forestry programs.
During 2006 the Indigenous Aquaculture Unit (IAU) – established 2003 – worked closely with the ACIAR Fisheries program, looking at better mechanisms for ‘spillovers of information’ from previous and current ACIAR projects, many of which have involved the WorldFish Centre which aims to reduce hunger and poverty by improving fisheries and aquaculture.
The projects have developed low-technology and low-capital techniques for rural small-scale hatchery, nursery and grow-out of important aquaculture species, so they can assist development of Indigenous aquaculture and identify some potential areas for project-level cooperation.
Restoring trochus populations
Australia, Indonesia and some Pacific Island nations supply around 90 per cent of the world’s trochus shell, which is used for high quality buttons and crafts, and are part of an ACIAR effort to restore trochus populations in these areas.
Due to an increasing value and demand for shell, trochus stocks on many reefs in Australia and the Indo-Pacific have been over-exploited. This trend has fuelled much research on mass production of juveniles in hatcheries and restocking techniques which aim to provide methods for stock enhancement.
About the trochus shell market
The current global demand for trochus shell is estimated at 7,000 tonnes annually, worth about A$50 – $60 million. Trochus are found in two tropical regions of Australia:
Concerned King Sound Indigenous communities in WA approached Northern Territory University
These communities were concerned about falling production and increased scarcity of the trochus in areas where they had fished for centuries and they hoped to gain access to the hatchery production skills the NTU had developed for trochus. The university helped to establish a pilot hatchery, but further help was needed to effectively reseed coral reefs with hatchery-produced juveniles.
ACIAR funded the research in WA and also in Indonesia and Vanuatu. Hatchery techniques were further developed and reseeding trials commenced. It was found that the release of unprotected juveniles onto coral reefs worked for WA. The success achieved with this reef reseeding by the King Sound aboriginal communities deserved further encouragement, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission (ATSIC) decided to assist with the incorporation of the Kimberley Aquaculture Aboriginal Corporation (KAAC).
In 2001 with the help of the WA government ATSIC funded KAAC to proceed with the establishment of a $3.2 million multi-species hatchery, where trochus would be cultured for reseeding depleted reefs.
In 2005 KAAC won the WA Coastal Awards for Excellence “Outstanding Indigenous Coastal Achievement” for the ACIAR Trochus Research Project, then recently completed.
NB The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF)’s Indigenous Aquaculture Unit (IAU) provides advice, promotes Indigenous aquaculture development within government and industry, assists in appraisal of Indigenous project proposals, and helps source and/or coordinate funding support from other government agencies and stakeholders.
PWF would love to hear some firsthand reports on how aquaculture and the trochus fisheries are faring in 2007??