Moratorium on Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Prosecutions Needed Now

19 September 2022

Moratorium on Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Prosecutions Needed Now As Charge Against Elder Dropped

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) continues to call for an immediate moratorium on prosecuting Aboriginal people for cultural fishing, following the NSW Government’s withdrawal of a final charge against Yuin Elder Kevin Mason recently.

The charge of resisting arrest related to a dramatic 2018 incident where the 76-year-old Elder was chased into the sea by a Fisheries NSW officer at Narooma on the NSW South Coast, because of a small bag of abalone with which he was going to feed his family.

Crown Solicitors on behalf of the NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment (DPIE) appeared in Batemans Bay Local Court and withdrew the charge against the great-grandfather.

The NSWALC Chairperson, Councillor Danny Chapman says the treatment of Mr Mason and other community cultural fishers across NSW is unnecessary and traumatic, and not in the spirit of the NSW Government’s commitments to Closing the Gap.

“Despite the NSW Government’s commitments to reduce incarceration rates of Aboriginal peoples, recognize Aboriginal people’s inherent rights and interests in the sea, and transform the way government and its agencies work, it continues to criminalise Aboriginal cultural practices.

Our community members face financially debilitating fines of tens of thousands of dollars, are prohibited from even going near the water, and the impact on them and their families is horrific. This is not in line with the Government’s Closing the Gap commitments in any way,” he said.

Cr Chapman says the NSW Government must meet its obligations and act now.

“It’s simple. The NSW Government must immediately end the prosecutions of Aboriginal people exercising their cultural fishing rights. And it must commence Section 21AA of the Fisheries Management Act 1994, which the NSW Parliament passed   13 years ago, in 2009,” he said.

Section 21AA authorises an Aboriginal person practising his or her cultural fishing rights to take fish, despite bag limits.

The Government’s failure to commence Section 21AA is now the subject of  a Parliamentary Inquiry investigating why legislative provisions have not been enacted, and the ongoing impacts on Aboriginal communities.

Cr Chapman says that the NSWALC has advocated on this issue for many decades.

“We have consistently called for the immediate commencement of section 21AA and for the prosecution of Aboriginal cultural fishers to immediately stop.

The NSW Government has had more than a decade to work with us to get this right, but hasn’t.

And our people who are trying to feed their families and communities, as is their cultural right, are targeted and harassed, as we’ve seen with the traumatic experiences endured by Uncle Kevin Mason. How is that Closing the Gap?”

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Media Enquiries: media@alc.org.au

  • Transcripts and more information on the Parliamentary Inquiry on the Commencement of the Fisheries Management Amendment Act 2009 are available here.