The sustainability of indigenous customary hunting and fishing in remote areas can be influenced by human factors operating at global as well as regional and local scales because of the hybrid nature and sectoral interactions of the local economic environment. The internationally significant population of dugongs (Dugong dugon or seacow) in Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea supports an important indigenous fishery. The economic, socio-cultural and environmental factors that influenced hunting activity in 1998 and 1999 by the members of the community of Mabuiag Island were investigated to inform the sustainable management of the fishery. The landed catch during the eight months March to October of 145 dugongs in 1998 and 170 dugongs in 1999 potentially provided the community with an average of 290 g of dugong meat per person per day. Fifty-seven per cent of adult males on the island participated in dugong hunting, but more than half the catch in each year was caught by only two hunters. The probability of at least one person from the community going dugong hunting in 1998 and 1999 was 0.59 ± 0.02 per day. This probability was influenced by local environmental factors, including the abundance of dugongs in the traditional hunting grounds (affected by wind speed, year, season and lunar day) and the size of the commercial crayfish catch (which is influenced by the global market price, as well as local conditions). Although dugong hunting remains a very important part of the islanders’ contemporary culture and customary economy, the capacity to hunt dugongs is facilitated by the ease with which some hunters move between the state, commercial and customary sectors of their local economy. The complexities of the economic, social and cultural environments need to be considered in planning for the sustainable harvesting of threatened species by remote indigenous communities.