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The future of the NT fishing industry is in partnership with Traditional Owners

[supplied by NLC]


Image: supplied

Commitments by Territory Labor and the CLP to phase out commercial gillnet fishing present a renewed opportunity. Government must strengthen engagement with Traditional Owners and industry stakeholders to chart the way for a thriving fisheries future.


The NLC has long been working to ensure the concerns of Traditional Owners regarding Aboriginal Waters are acknowledged by both fishers and the Northern Territory Government (NTG). Yesterday, it was shared that commercial gillnet fishing for barramundi will be phased out across the Northern Territory from August, 2024.


The voices of Traditional Owners were notably omitted from this announcement by Chief Minister Eva Lawler. A reset in the approach to commercial inshore barramundi fishing must be based on a model centred around Traditional Owners.

The NLC calls on the NTG to engage constructively with Traditional Owners, who are deeply committed to the sustainable management of fisheries for all Territorians.

​NLC Chair Matthew Ryan said "Our people have been sustainably managing Sea Country for tens of thousands of years. We are attuned to and dependent on these environments. We know they need to be cared for in the right way.

"Much of the fishing in the NT takes place in what is legally recognised as Aboriginal Waters. The NLC wants to see a strong commitment from the NTG and industries to work with us and Traditional Owners to protect Sea Country. This is about creating a sustainable fishing future where everyone can benefit."


Issues with the use of commercial gillnets have been raised on several occasions, most notably eight months ago when Traditional Owners from East Arnhem Land voiced these among broader concerns with the way the NTG manages fisheries.


At the time, its approach was based on a widescale snapshot, which wasn’t reflective of the issues experienced in remote communities. The majority of Traditional Owner concerns – risks to vulnerable species, lack of data-informed quotas supporting healthy fish stocks, inadequate monitoring and compliance, as well as the need to respect the importance of operating with cultural licence – require further attention.


Traditional Owners subsequently limited access to commercial fishers for some areas in 2023, in the hope that these protective measures could provide a catalyst to address concerns and for the NTG to include Aboriginal people in decision-making processes.


In 2008, the Blue Mud Bay decision legally recognised Traditional Owners’ ownership of the intertidal zone of Aboriginal Land, spanning 85% of the intertidal coastal waters of the NT. In response to agreed commitments from NTG within the Blue Mud Bay Implementation Action Plan 2020-2022, Traditional Owners have been seeking opportunities to provide meaningful input into fisheries management. However, since the Action Plan’s expiration, the NTG efforts have stalled, resulting in unproductive delays to resolving key issues.


While some groups have acknowledged concerns raised by Traditional Owners, and lobbied for changes that compliment their interests, the NLC and Traditional Owners weren’t consulted or advised about NTG’s latest, significant fisheries announcement.


The NLC feels that the potential for Aboriginal economic development and shared benefits from improved access arrangements are not being properly considered. Traditional Owners welcome sustainable arrangements.


Consultations with the NLC regarding access, use and management arrangements for Aboriginal Waters are currently underway. There is a strong desire to evolve agreements so that they meet the requirements of Sea Country custodians and at the same time support the interests of fishing industries.


It is crucial that Traditional Owners are consulted on matters concerning Aboriginal Waters; the time for joint-management is now. The NLC encourages the NTG to work with landowners and industry stakeholders to shape a future of NT fisheries that benefits all.



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