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of the moisture has evaporated. The largest specimens, such as prickly and
teat fish, are frequently spread open, so as to dry more readily, with small
transversely-inserted wooden splints. The greater amount of moisture having
been got rid of, the fish are transferred to the smoke-house. […] The wood
most in favour for the smoking process is that of the red mangrove, Rhizophora
mucronata . Twenty-four hours is the usual period for which bêche-de-mer are
left in the smoke-house […].
After being smoked, the bêche-de-mer were bagged and transported to the nearest
port, from which they were shipped to south-east Asia, particularly to markets in
China (Suggate, 1940, p157).
The quantities and values of bêche-de-mer taken from the Great Barrier Reef
during the period from 1880-1889 are shown in Figure 5.1. These graphs show
the variable yields and returns obtained from the fishery; from 1881-1883, the
fishery expanded, but fluctuations then characterised the bêche-de-mer fishery
from 1884-1889, as Bauer (1964, p125) acknowledged. Yields declined in 1887;
but, from 1887-1890, the fishery recovered and, by the latter date, over 100
boats were engaged in the trade (Saville-Kent 1890a, p730). Overall, the scale
of the bêche-de-mer trade was substantial and of considerable importance to the
colony; the returns from the trade made the bêche-de-mer fishery the second
most profitable marine export from Queensland, after pearl-shell (Loos, 1982).
However, the flourishing period of the fishery was short-lived. In 1890, Saville-
Kent acknowledged the need for restrictions, surveillance of the fishery, and
the appointment of an Inspector of Fisheries for the Cooktown district. In part,
his concern derived from frequent reports of abuse of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander workers, and the fact that Indigenous workers were required to
be registered at ports. The industry required little capital investment and paid
low wages, generally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. Due to
those difficulties, the profitability of the bêche-de-mer fishery declined during
the 1890s and, in 1897, discussing the violence and inefficiency of the industry,
Bennett (1897, p681) reported that the fishery was unsuccessful and that 'its total
extinction would not be a matter for regret'.
Despite the worsening economic prospects for the industry for the period
1890-1900, some authors were optimistic about the wealth remaining in bêche-
de-mer fishing. In 1899, Semon (1899, p246) wrote that the Great Barrier Reef
'is one of the richest tripang [ sic ] grounds existing, and it is continually ransacked
by a lot of white fishermen from Thursday Island, Cooktown, and other north
Australian settlements'. However, documentary evidence indicates that, by
1908, periodic, severe depletion of bêche-de-mer stocks had occurred. The 1908
Royal Commission investigation into the Queensland pearl-shell and bêche-de-
mer industries collected oral history evidence from many fishers, who complained
that little or no bêche-de-mer were available, and a closure of the fishery was
recommended (Mackay et al., 1908, p. lxxiii). One bêche-de-mer fisher, Severin
Berner Andreassen, reported that the animals had become scarce and few could
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