Caught in the tides: The (re)development of a trepang (sea cucumber, Holothuria scabra) industry at Warruwi, Northern Territory

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From at least the late 1700s, Indigenous people from the West Arnhem region of the Northern Territory (Australia) engaged with Macassan trepang (sea cucumber, Holothuria scabra) traders, who visited the coastline each wet season. A Methodist Mission was established at Warruwi, in West Arnhem Land, in 1916. The Mission actively participated in the collection and sale of trepang, and the industry continued through the twentieth century in a changed form. Over recent decades the trade has been dominated by an interstate commercial operator with no Indigenous involvement. This paper outlines past and present engagements in the trepang industry by the Indigenous residents of the remote community of Warruwi. It discusses contemporary efforts to develop a community-based small-scale trepang fishery and the challenges faced in doing so. Trepang is seen as linking people’s past to their futures, and the development of a trepang enterprise is seen as a way to draw on important sea country and kin based relationships whilst contributing to a secure and sustainable future. A number of gains have been made towards these ends. But as in previous eras, the nature of the industry reflects its contemporary context and the opportunities and challenges this presents. Capacity and legal issues present obstacles characteristic of the difficulties Indigenous Australian communities face in leveraging the resources necessary to undertake local development initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-628
Number of pages12
JournalReviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


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