The Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery is the most valuable commercial fishery in the Torres Strait and provides significant financial independence for the traditional inhabitants of the region. The fishery is based on a single species, the ornate or tropical rock lobster (Panulirus ornatus) also known as Kaiar by the Torres Strait Islanders.
Tropical Rock Lobsters (TRL) are captured by hand or by using a short hand spear or snare by fisherman working from small aluminum or fiberglass dinghies. Most fisherman hold their breath and dive down on shallow reef tops to catch TRL, while others use hookah (surface supplied air) to dive the large areas of deeper open bottom in the Torres Strait. Most fishing occurs during neap tides when currents are not very strong and underwater visibility is clearer. The commercial fishing season operates from 1 December to 30 September, with a peak in fishing effort occurring during March to August. A fishery closure occurs from the 1 October until the 1 December this allows fish stocks to recuperate. As of the 1 December the fishery is reopened only for free diving and lamp fishing which is known by the islanders as night spearing. The fishery has bag limits, size and gear restrictions for the lobster and a season closure with no fishing allowed in October and November.
Tropical Rock Lobster is a delicatessen and has many beneficial sources of vitamins including Omega-3 fatty acids and low in calorie.
Basil Sabatino has been a Tropical Rock Lobster Fisherman for 13 years. He currently lives on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and says "fishing has played a major part in my childhood through to my adulthood". Basil works from a 6m Fibreglass dinghy with a Suzuki 115 horse power motor; he usually dives using a hookah to catch TRL, but Basil also free dives. He works the whole fishing season and also catchers TRL at night during the correct seasons, which is known as lamp fishing.