Re-evaluation of the sustainability of a marine mammal harvest by indigenous people using several lines of evidence
People in 114 countries have consumed meat and other products from ~ 87 species of marine mammals since 1990. Nonetheless, assessment of the sustainability of most harvests is very difficult because information on the target populations and harvest numbers is inadequate. Dugongs have been harvested by the indigenous peoples of Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea, for at least 4000 years; the harvest has been substantial for at least the last 400–500 years. We use several lines of evidence to re-evaluate the sustainability of this harvest in the absence of robust data on the absolute size of this dugong population or the harvest. The evidence suggests that the harvest is sustainable. Dugong relative density was significantly higher in 2013 than in any other survey year and their Area of Occupancy has trended slightly upward since 1987. The proportion of calves in 2013 was the highest recorded. Genetic diversity is high. Dugongs are caught in only 5.0% of the 5268 km2 of very high dugong density habitat as the result of the controls on the harvest and socio-economic factors. Nonetheless, many in the wider Australian community disapprove of this harvest and demand that hunting be banned. Enhancing culturally-appropriate spatial controls may be a more practical approach to managing this harvest than a more data-demanding Total Allowable Catch approach and may also be appropriate for some other indigenous harvests of marine mammals.