Fishing Rights

"Aboriginal cultural fishing means fishing activities and practices carried out by Aboriginal persons for the purpose of satisfying their personal, domestic or communal needs, or for educational or ceremonial purposes or other traditional purposes, and which do not have a commercial purpose".
NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW)

NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) 1983

The ALRA was established to return land in NSW to Aboriginal peoples through a process of lodging a claim(s) for certain Crown lands.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Councils (NSWALC) advocacy for Aboriginal peoples cultural fishing rights are intertwined with culture and heritage via the following section of the ALRA:

(7) Aboriginal culture and heritage

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council has the following functions in relation to Aboriginal culture and heritage —

  • to take action to protect the culture and heritage of Aboriginal persons in New South Wales, subject to any other law,
  • to promote awareness in the community of the culture and heritage of Aboriginal persons in New South Wales.

More information about the Aboriginal Land Rights Act is available by clicking here.

NSWALC Fishing Fund


The NSWALC is seeking expressions of interest for the NSWALC Fishing Fund 2020-21.

For more information click here to visit the NSWALC Fishing Fund page.

Fisheries Management Act (FMA) 1994


In 2009 the NSW Parliament amended the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FMA) to recognise and provide for Aboriginal cultural fishing. The Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement (s 21AA) amendments have not been fully commenced.

NSWALC has repeatedly sought the NSW Government’s commitment to commencing section 21AA. NSWALC has also called on the NSW Government:

  1. To place an immediate moratorium on prosecuting Aboriginal cultural fishers and develop reforms in genuine partnership with Aboriginal organisations and peoples, to ensure Aboriginal cultural fishers are protected from prosecution;
  2. To remove restrictions on Aboriginal cultural fishers and cultural fishing activity;
  3. To work in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and Aboriginal people to develop alternative management options rather than imposing inappropriate regulations on cultural fishing activities.

For more information click here regarding s21AA.

NSWALC MEDIA RELEASE - End Prosecutions for Aboriginal Cultural Fishing


The NSWALC calls on the NSW Government to support Aboriginal cultural fishing practices by ending the prosecutions of Aboriginal people exercising their cultural fishing rights.

Click here for more information.

Department of Primary Industries - Aboriginal fishing


Fishing has always been an important part of the cultural and economic life of Aboriginal communities. For many Aboriginal people fishing is an integral component of connection to their traditional country.

Aboriginal culture traditionally recognises extended family. Quite often it is a few family members who fish for many, especially in circumstances where members of the family are elderly or are unable to participate in the fishing activity.

Protecting and promoting cultural fishing activities of Aboriginal communities is recognised in managing our fisheries resources with measures that provide for continued access to and involvement of Aboriginal people in management of the NSW fisheries resource.

Click here for more information.

Aboriginal people have a spiritual, social and customary association with fisheries resources. Aboriginal community members have continued their tradition of fishing consistent with their cultural beliefs, which fundamentally include customary sustainable fishing parameters.

NSW Industry and Investment are inviting Expressions of Interest for the inaugural membership of the Aboriginal Fishing Advisory Council (AFAC).

AFAC has been established under Section 229 of the Fisheries Management Act 1994 to provide the Minister with advice about Aboriginal fishing issues.

In line with requirements prescribed in the Fisheries Management (General) Regulation 2002, AFAC is to be composed of up to fourteen members of which thirteen are voting members. Specifically membership is to consist of: Aboriginal persons appointed to represent different regions of the State (not more than ten in total); one other Aboriginal person; one person appointed as a representative of Native Title Services Corporation Limited (NTSCORP); one person appointed as a representative of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC); and a senior officer of the Department (non-voting).

If you are interested in membership on the Council please contact Ms Laura Best on (02) 9527 8574 or by email at for further information and an application pack.

Expressions of Interest will close 5pm on Friday, 13 August 2010 and must be mailed to:

Aboriginal Fishing Advisory Council EOI
C/- Industry & Investment NSW
PO Box 21

Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Rights

On 03 December 2009 amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW) [the Act] which acknowledge Aboriginal cultural fishing were passed by both houses of NSW Parliament.

These amendments provide a long-awaited definition of Aboriginal cultural fishing along with the platform to provide for Aboriginal cultural fishing.

NSWALC Chairperson and others have been part of wider delegations who have been involved in negotiations with the Minister for Primary Industries and the Department of Industry and Investment NSW (I&I NSW), to amend the Fisheries Management Act 1994 to recognise Aboriginal cultural fishers.

The new definition in respect of cultural fishing, states:

"Aboriginal cultural fishing means fishing activities and practices carried out by Aboriginal persons for the purpose of satisfying their personal, domestic or communal needs, or for educational or ceremonial purposes or other traditional purposes, and which do not have a commercial purpose".

This change means that Aboriginal people in NSW do not need to apply for a licence or pay a fee - regardless of whether fishers are fishing from freshwater or saltwater - if they are fishing within the provisions of an Aboriginal cultural fisher under the Act and its Regulations.

Apart from the definition of a cultural fisher, other welcomed improvements include the establishment of a Ministerial Advisory Council - the Aboriginal Fisheries Advisory Council - to advise the Minister on all Aboriginal fishing matters including - but not limited to:

(a) Streamlining of the process for obtaining a section 37 permit to catch fish for larger cultural and ceremonial purposes, outside of limits of a "deemed permit"
(b) The development of Regulations for the management of Aboriginal cultural fishing.

The Regulations addressing Aboriginal cultural fishing will provide greater freedoms than have previously existed within NSW legislation. These provisions will be provided for within the Regulations which are to be devised in conjunction with the AFAC.

At a minimum these provisions are expected to include:

  • Possession limits being changed (anticipated to be doubled) for small scale cultural fishing practices
  • Shucking of abalone, rock lobster and turban shell near the waters edge being permitted in certain circumstances of Aboriginal cultural fishing
  • An individual Aboriginal fisher may fish for a small group of up to 15 Aboriginal people who are within 20 metres of the high water mark, whereas previously Aboriginal fishers could only fish for themselves. This means 'the possession limit' or the number of fish that may be taken will be based on the number of people at the cultural event regardless of whether all are fishing.

NSWALC is currently working closely with I&I NSW on the establishment of the AFAC, and is further encouraged by the Minister's commitment to increase opportunities for Aboriginal communities in the commercial fishing sector.

While the Aboriginal cultural fishing parameters have not yet taken effect via regulation, I&I NSW have formally advised NSWALC that - in the spirit of the cultural fishing amendments - I&I NSW has implemented an Interim Compliance Policy to provide for cultural fishing practices in this interim period.

These compliance provisions include additional measures to allow for communal needs and small cultural events.

Please note that the section 37 'Taking fish for Aboriginal Cultural or Ceremonial Use' permit is still required for large cultural fishing events.

NSWALC has developed a fact sheet: Fishing Rights Fact Sheet 1 - Aboriginal cultural fishing in NSW (amended version TBC) which outlines the amendments to the NSW fishing legislation and more information on the Interim Compliance Policy.

NSWALC has also developed a fact sheet outlining the laws and policies relating to Aboriginal cultural activities in Marine Parks: Fishing Rights Fact Sheet 2 - Marine Parks and Aquatic Reserves: Management, Access and Cultural Activities.

If you have any questions the amendments, please contact the Policy and Research Unit of NSWALC on 02 9689 4444.

More Background Information

In May 2009, the NSW Government released the discussion paper 'Cultural Fishing in NSW.'  The discussion paper notes the importance of cultural fishing to Aboriginal communities.

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) highlights that the Fisheries Management Act NSW 1994 "does not specifically recognise or provide for cultural fishing."

The discussion paper addresses two areas of proposed amendment to the Fisheries Management Act NSW 1994:

AMENDMENT 1:  The inclusion of a definition of cultural fishing.

AMENDMENT 2: Willingness to streamline the process of obtaining a section 37 - 'Taking Fish for Aboriginal Cultural or Ceremonial Use Permit Application.'

In July 2009, NSWALC released the submission "Reel Cultural Fishing Rights" which details its' response to the discussion paper.

Reel Cultural Fishing Rights

Reel Cultural Fishing Rights makes 5 Key Recommendations:

  1. That the NSW Government through the DPI, delineate between 'Aboriginal Cultural Fishing' and the 'Aboriginal Subsistence Fisher'.
  2. That both 'Cultural Fishing' and are defined and these definitions are written into the NSW Fisheries Management Act (NSW) 1994.
  3. That the 'Aboriginal Subsistence Fisher' is written into the NSW Fisheries Management Act (NSW) 1994 as a class of fisher, separate to the recreational and commercial fisher.
  4. That the 'Aboriginal Subsistence Fisher' is afforded the freedom to continue to practice the craft of fishing in a traditional manner consistent with Aboriginal culture.
  5. Standing Permits to be granted for cultural events that are permanent calendar events.

NSWALC is committed to pursue its research on Aboriginal interaction with the fisheries resource in NSW. The NSWALC believes that there are many avenues to be explored surrounding Aboriginal involvement in fishing statewide.

Some areas of Aboriginal involvement that NSWALC intends to research are:

  • Capacity building
  • Marine Park Ranching
  • Habitat management
  • Stock enhancement programs
  • Employment
  • Graduate positions within the industry

NSWALC will continue these studies consistent with its Corporate Plan and would welcome collaborative involvement with the DPI to explore some options that we believe exist for greater Aboriginal participation in the NSW fishing sectors.