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Fishing and hunting

Lag Meta Aus: Home in the Torres Strait

Caution: This website includes includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Fishing and hunting

Harvesting the sea

Fishing was integral to how Torres Strait Islanders came to understand their environment and earned status within society. Shallow waters, complex reef systems and seagrass beds created an abundant marine ecosystem that provided a large proportion of the Islanders’ diet. 

More than 450 species of marine animals were harvested using a variety of techniques, including the use of bamboo fish scoops, harpoons, spears, hook-and-line methods and nets woven from local fibres. People also gathered by hand from reefs, lagoons or intertidal stone-walled fish traps.

Two boys catching crabs on a beach.
Boys catching crab on Kiriri (Hammond Island). Photo: George Serras.

Hunters of the reef

The dugong and turtle are intrinsic parts of Torres Strait culture. They are a popular subject of local myths and legends, and a favoured item of the Islander diet. The average dugong yields 255 kilograms of meat, while a turtle supplies 155 kilograms. Islanders have developed sophisticated dugong and turtle hunting and management techniques.

Dugongs are more prevalent in the seagrass beds of the Near Western and Inner islands, but turtles are found on reefs and beaches across the Torres Strait. Today, dugongs are a protected species, although limited traditional hunting is permitted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A linocut relief print on cream coloured paper in black ink. The print incorporates images of turtles, birds, bats, fish, a shark and crocodile and male figures, infilled with detailed patterning.
Wadth, Zigin ar Kusikus, 2005, linocut print by Alick Tipoti, Badu, ink on paper. National Museum of Australia. On Badu there is a legend involving three brothers, Wadth, Zigin and Kusikus. Wadth became a famous turtle hunter.