Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 617–628 | Cite as

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

  • Jackie Gould
Research Paper


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.


Indigenous Marine resources Aquaculture Community development Australia Sea country 



I would like to thank Dr. Linda Ford (Northern Institute, CDU) and Dr. Ann Fleming (Darwin Aquaculture Centre) for their feedback on the paper, and to acknowledge that some data derives from participation in their FRDC funded project ‘Warruwi Fisheries Aquaculture Partnership Project 20132014’ (CDU Ethics Committee approval number H13066). Thanks also to Jenny Inmulugulu, Bunug Galaminda, Wayne Tupper, Steve and Brenda Westley, and Andrew McLeod (Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation) for their clarification on various aspects of the project history discussed throughout the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northern InstituteCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia

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