Cultural fishing jobs hoped to be a ‘game changer’ for Indigenous communities

Cultural fishing jobs hoped to be a ‘game changer’ for Indigenous communities

There are hopes a NSW government initiative to increase employment for Indigenous fishers will be a “game changer” for communities along the state’s east coast.

Key points:

  • A NSW program aims boost Indigenous employment in the fishing industry
  • It is the NSW government’s first initiative in response to the state parliamentary inquiry into cultural fishing
  • The inquiry is set to hand down its report and recommendations in November

The government said the program was in response to concerns raised in a parliamentary inquiry into cultural fishing, launched in November last year, to examine why legislation to protect the practice sat on the shelf for more than a decade.

In public hearings in July and August this year, the upper house inquiry heard from divers, lawyers and human rights advocates about the impact of decades of prosecution of Indigenous fishers, despite the recognition of their rights under federal native title law.

The inquiry’s report is expected to be handed down in November, but the state government has already announced a program to help more Indigenous people enter the commercial fishing industry, an issue raised in the inquiry’s first hearing in Narooma.

Rene Woods with the wetlands behind him at sunset.

Rene Woods from the Aboriginal Fishing Advisory Council says it is a positive initiative.(Supplied: MDBA)

NSW Aboriginal Fishing Advisory Council chairperson Rene Woods said the initiative would be a “game changer for mobs across NSW”.

“The whole seafood industry across the east coast will benefit from having First Nations involvement,” he said.

Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders said Department of Primary Industries (DPI) staff would work with Indigenous people to create at least three new companies with a fishing and aquaculture focus.

“[They will help] develop business plans, feasibility studies and mentoring options to launch their new venture,” he said.

“And support their ongoing, viable operation.”

Commercial fishing boats in Coffs Harbour

The program will help support more Indigenous people to enter the commercial fishing industry.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

The new businesses could include hatcheries, commercial fishing, tourism operations or shark mitigation.

Mr Woods hoped the program would help “close the gap” by creating new employment opportunities.

“That self-determination element of the program is going to be beneficial right across NSW as well as the tourism element,” he said.

Close-up of a small pile of fresh abalone on rocks

Diving for resources like abalone has been part of traditional Indigenous culture for millennia.(ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

The initiative builds on previous programs the DPI has delivered to support Indigenous cultural tourism and sea country ventures.

Walbunja man and project officer for Joonga Land and Water Aboriginal Corporation Wally Stewart said the company had been awarded a contract to deliver the Smart Drumline to catch and tag sharks in the Eurobodalla on the NSW South Coast.

Staff worked with the DPI to deliver the program, which created seven jobs for local Indigenous people.

“We’re teaching our people about looking after country again and having a say about management,” he said.

“We’re trying to bring DPI and ourselves together to counteract some of these [environmental] problems by creating employment for our mob.”

Close up of bearded man with determined expression, lake and trees in background

Wally Stewart says more needs to be done to address injustices against Indigenous people.(ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

However, Mr Stewart said these collaborations did not address claims by Indigenous fishers that they had been exposed to aggressive treatment and targeting by Fisheries NSW officers while practising their traditional culture.

“They play good cop and want to do these programs with us,” Mr Stewart said.

“But that doesn’t compensate for them still trying to take our rights away from us.”

Expressions of interest for the program will close in November.

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