End Prosecutions for Aboriginal Cultural Fishing

20 October 2021

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

This follows recent media coverage of the 2018 apprehension of 74-year-old Kevin Mason by NSW Fisheries officers, where the great-grandfather was chased into the sea at Narooma because of a small bag of abalone with which he was going to feed his family.

More recently, Walbunja man John Carriage currently faces a jail sentence, or a five-year fishing ban this Thursday (October 21, 2021) for two small bags of abalone weighing 9.76 kilograms that he harvested in December 2017.

The NSWALC Councillor for the South Coast region Danny Chapman says the state government has agreed for the NSW abalone industry to increase its 100-tonne annual quota, while continuing to prosecute Aboriginal people trying to feed their families and communities.

“It beggars belief that commercial abalone fishers are now able to harvest the unused part of their 2020-21 abalone quota till 30 November this year, while cultural fishers like Mr Mason and Mr Carriage are aggressively pursued and prosecuted for exercising their cultural fishing rights.

Our people have been fishing and feeding our families for tens of thousands of years on the NSW South Coast. It’s one of our enduring cultural practices vital for the health of our people and communities.

The NSW Government has signed on to the Closing the Gap Agreement and I ask how continuing to prosecute Aboriginal people for cultural fishing honours that commitment,” he said.

The NSWALC Chairperson Anne Dennis says that the NSW Government has had ample time to commence Section 21AA of the Fisheries Management Act 1994.

“The NSW Parliament passed Section 21AA in 2009, which would authorise an Aboriginal person practising cultural fishing to take fish, despite bag limits.

12 years later, Section 21AA has not yet commenced operation and we continue to endure stressful, expensive and inappropriate policing of our cultural fishers,” she said.

The NSWALC calls on the NSW Government to:

  1. support Aboriginal People’s cultural fishing practices
  2. place an immediate moratorium on prosecuting Aboriginal cultural fishers and develop reforms to ensure Aboriginal cultural fishers are protected from prosecution
  3. remove restrictions on Aboriginal cultural fishers and cultural fishing activity
  4. commence Section 21AA of the Fisheries Management Act 1994 without the introduction of restrictions [this provision was passed by the NSW Parliament a decade ago, but has never been commenced];
  5. 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

In 2015 the NSW Government proposed a new form of regulation on Aboriginal cultural fishing that NSWALC, NTSCORP and the Government’s Aboriginal Fishing Advisory Committee (AFAC) strongly opposed.

Around 2016 the NSW Government proposed to ‘trial’ local management plans that were intended to be developed by local Aboriginal communities as a compromise to government-imposed regulations.

However, NSWALC had significant concerns with those local management plans that largely remain unaddressed, including:

a. not based on self-determination and self-regulation

b. imposing the flawed 2015 regulations, just by another name

c. not genuinely being developed by Aboriginal communities and would not reflect the rights and interests of Aboriginal communities.

d. incorporate inappropriate take and possession limits imposed by government

Media Enquiries: Sarah Puckeridge 0409 323 670 or media@alc.org.au