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reefs, in contrast to the bêche-de-mer and pearl-shell fisheries. The decline of the
trochus industry was precipitated by the introduction of synthetic plastics in the
1950s, which caused the market for trochus to collapse, rather than by shortages
of the natural material . 13
Evidence of the survival of trochus stocks is found in several sources. In 1962,
for example, Rees (1962, p102) stated that trochus shells up to eight inches in
diameter could still be obtained from the Great Barrier Reef and were still used
to manufacture buttons. In addition, monthly records of trochus taken from the
Lizard Island group by the crew of the Placid indicate that, in February 1964, a
total weight of 5 tons 5 cwt 1 qtr 11 lbs of trochus was taken, and in April 1964
the amount was 10 tons 11 cwt 2 qtr 10 lbs . 14 Since 1970, a limited market for
trochus was re-established, and trochus fishing has continued in the Mackay area;
the recent fishery, however, is small in comparison with the historical fishery that
operated between 1912 and the 1950s. Overall, the evidence presented above
suggests that the earlier fishery removed thousands of tons of trochus from reefs
throughout the Great Barrier Reef; but, in contrast with the bêche-de-mer and
pearl-shell industries, the operation of that fishery reduced - but did not exhaust
- the supply of trochus.
This chapter has described one of the early European impacts on the Great
Barrier Reef: the effects of the bêche-de-mer , pearl-shell and trochus fisheries.
Strong evidence suggests that those industries caused sustained and intensive
impacts on the marine resources they used. The earliest period of operation of
the bêche-de-mer and pearl-shell fisheries, which dated from at least 1827, is not
illuminated by production statistics, and was neither regulated nor monitored,
with the result that the uncontrolled exploitation of resources took place. By
1890, Saville-Kent had reported the depletion of bêche-de-mer in Queensland; by
1898, the Queensland Inspector of Pearl-Shell Fisheries had acknowledged the
scarcity of pearl oysters. In 1908, the Royal Commission into the bêche-de-mer and
pearl-shell industries found that severe depletion of bêche-de-mer and pearl oysters
had occurred, and that restrictions of the fisheries were necessary. Thousands of
tons of bêche-de-mer were removed from the reefs, and early descriptions of the
harvesting of these animals with ease from the reef flats at low water suggests an
abundance that has not been described since 1922. Several contractions of those
industries - each related to depletion of the marine resources - had occurred by
1950, after which date the fisheries declined to very low levels. By that time,
coral reefs throughout the Great Barrier Reef had been harvested extensively by
bêche-de-mer and trochus crews, and the reefs of the northern Great Barrier Reef
had been exploited systematically for pearl-shell.
As a result of the extended period of operation of those fisheries, the bêche-
de-mer , pearl-shell and trochus resources of the Great Barrier Reef were almost
certainly significantly degraded from their status at the time of European contact
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