Government must act on recognising Aboriginal cultural fishing rights

As reported in the Batemans Bay Post:

TWO commercial fishermen are calling on all political parties contesting the upcoming state election to restore Aboriginal cultural fishing rights.

John Brierley and Andrew Nye say the introduction of marine park sanctuary zones, weekend bans on commercial fishing, and increasing bag limits on traditional catches, such as lobsters and abalone are sending the commercial fishing industry “downhill”.

While both houses of NSW Parliament passed amendments to the Fisheries Management Act in 2009 which acknowledged Aboriginal cultural fishing, the changes were not gazetted or formally recognised.

Mr Nye said traditional Aboriginal culture included commercial fishing, and it should be recognised as a cultural practice.

“When the Europeans first arrived here, they bartered fish and barter is a trade,” Mr Nye said.

Mr Nye said every three months he had to pay Fisheries nearly $3000 for his commercial, fishing and boat licenses “just to go fishing”.

“I think we should be exempted from all three,” he said.

“What’s in there is our resource.

“It’s always been our resource, since before the Europeans came here.”

Mr Brierley said the commercial fishing industry was “going downhill all the time”.

“Since management came in, we lost 90 per cent of the water,” he said.

“All our fish are going to the recreational mob.”

Mr Brierley said the state government was required to negotiate with Aboriginal communities on fishing legislation, but this was not happening.

He called on the state government to act on formally recognising Aboriginal cultural fishing rights.

“Cut out the baloney and get on with it,” he said.

“We want our right to work when we traditionally worked and we want our catch back.”

The pair met with Greens MLC David Shoebridge last week.

Mr Shoebridge said the Greens introduced the 2009 bill to Parliament which recognised traditional Aboriginal cultural fishing practices, however two successive state governments failed to gazette the changes to make it law.

He said Aboriginal people were being prosecuted needlessly for exercising their rights to fish as their forefathers had done.

Mr Shoebridge said that since 2009, 138 Aboriginal people had received a verbal caution for undertaking cultural fishing practices, 29 received a written caution and 223 were prosecuted.

“The high rate of prosecution to caution is also disturbing and shows a heavy-handed regulatory response,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“We got the amendments through, we now want it to come into effect.

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