How can ‘one black man’ be ‘classed as a danger to the ocean’? Emotions high in catch limit battle

How can ‘one black man’ be ‘classed as a danger to the ocean’? Emotions high in catch limit battle

Indigenous fishers have told a NSW parliamentary inquiry that catch limits have no place in traditional Aboriginal fishing practice.

Key points:

  • A parliamentary inquiry has travelled to the Far South Coast for hearings
  • The inquiry is investigating why cultural fishing is still being criminalised, despite key legislation passing in 2009
  • Aboriginal fishers and the state government have disagreed over catch limit requirements

A NSW Upper House committee is investigating why legislation to protect cultural fishing, passed by the state government in 2009, has sat on the shelf for over a decade.

The committee travelled to Narooma on the NSW Far South coast on Thursday to hear from Indigenous fishers firsthand.

Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Danny Chapman told the committee that it is imperative for First Nations people to retain their traditional fishing rights.

“Government actions have slowly eroded and taken away our culture,” Mr Chapman said.

“The only thing that remains at the moment is our fishing rights, and we will not give them up.

“We will not take one more backward step.”

Abalone laid out on rocks and in a small rockpool by the shore.

Shucking and cleaning abalone on the beach is a cultural tradition for NSW South Coast Aboriginal people.(ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)

The New South Wales government has argued that while it “supports the rights of Aboriginal cultural fishers” it cannot commence the legislation until an agreement on catch limits is reached with peak Aboriginal bodies.

“The NSW government position has been clear and consistent since 2009, namely, that limits must be applied across all fishing sectors, including cultural fishers,” the submission said.

However, Kayeleen Brown from Aboriginal health service Katungul told the inquiry that government-imposed catch limits had no place in Aboriginal culture.

“Bagging limits have no place within our cultural framework, for we are one with the land, and the land is one with us,” she said.

“We have never had issues with sustainability of resources for over 100,000 years.

“As of 2022, we have seen a decline [due to] our inability to maintain our cultural practices and manage our country on our terms.”

An aboriginal woman smiling to the camera with green shrubs in the background

Ms Brown gave evidence at the Narooma roundtable.(ABC South East: Vanessa Milton)

In a frank and emotional discussion, divers also described repeated clashes with authorities, which have often ended up in charges being laid.

Walbunja man Keith Nye, 65, was one of those at the roundtable.

He is set to face Liverpool Local Court in August for sentencing over fisheries offences.

“In my court battle, I’ve been classed as a danger to the ocean,” he said.

“One black man swimming in one little ocean. How is that possible?”

Parliamentary inquiry documents

The parliamentary inquiry travelled to Narooma for its first hearing.(ABC South East: Vanessa Milton)

Local Management Plan trial announced

The state government has recently launched a pilot program on the NSW mid-north coast to trial a new approach to managing cultural fishing.

“We acknowledge that different Aboriginal communities will have different needs when it comes to their cultural practices,” Minister for Agricultural Dugald Saunders said.

“Which is why the LMP [local management plan] approach is being considered above statewide regulations, to allow more flexibility.”

The local management plan will run near Port Macquarie for two years.

It will look at where cultural fishing can take place, what species are being caught and what equipment can be used.

It will also consider “take and possession limits.”

Close up of man near lake with wooden jetty behind him

Danny Chapman said south coast Aboriginal people will not give up their traditional fishing rights.(Vanessa Milton)

Mr Chapman said it could be a good idea, but the priority has to be addressing the continued prosecution of Aboriginal fishers.

“How are we going to show goodwill to people who continue to arrest us and devastate our families and communities?” he said.

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