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"Skinnin' the pots": A history of the Western Rock Lobster Fishery

Gray, Howard (1999) "Skinnin' the pots": A history of the Western Rock Lobster Fishery. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Off the west coast of Australia between approximately North-West Cape (21°S) and Cape Leeuwin (35°S), from the shoreline to the edge of the continental shelf wherever suitable reef exists, the western rock lobster Panulirus cygnus occurs in prodigious numbers. Although this resource was apparently untapped by the aboriginal Australians of the area its presence became known, at least in part, to early European settlers and efforts were made to harvest some as an adjunct to scale-fisheries for the small local market. More concerted efforts were made near the tum of the century as appropriate catching technology was introduced and local population grew. The potential for a major industry was soon recognised, but efforts to establish processing factories and export markets for a canned or frozen product did not prosper until World War 2 changed the course of events. Since then an intensive fishery has evolved that, as well as being Australia's most valuable single-species fishery, has for several decades been widely recognised as one of the most productive, well-managed and lucrative in the world. Despite its apparent consistency it is anything but static, barely a year passing without significant new developments.

This thesis presents a maritime history of the western rock lobster fishery. It provides the first fully researched narrative account of the fishery, chronicling effort, catch and efficiency, demand and marketing, economic conditions, research and management, the life of the fisher at different periods and related social and cultural developments and interactions. Key determinants of the nature and course of this uniquely successful fishery are investigated, including biological, environmental and geographical factors, fishing knowledge, technology, skill and strategy, processing, marketing and economic opportunities and trends, scientific research and management, social, cultural and political influences, innovation, entrepreneurship and the less tangible1 element of luck.

This thesis argues that the western rock lobster fishery, until now largely neglected in historical treatises, is deserving of a place in the mainstream history of ll1 Western Australia. It further contends that a multi-disciplinary approach is essential to understanding the nature and course of the fishery and its wider historical context.

This study is based on thorough research of official records, contemporary accounts and reports, interviews with fishers and others in the industry from past and present, and first-hand experience gained on vessels fishing for the lucrative, and delectable, western rock lobster.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor: Tull, Malcolm
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/40951
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