Native title holders on the NSW south coast hope a class action law suit will end decades of prosecution against their cultural fishing practices.

Aboriginal fishers say entire communities have had their health and culture damaged by the state government’s ongoing criminalisation of traditional fishing practices that are protected under native title law.

Now they’re hoping a class action – which could include more than ten thousand Indigenous people – will put pressure on the government to change its policies.

Uncle Wally Stewart is a Walbunja man who has spent decades fighting to get his people’s fishing rights recognised. He says the NSW government has a lot to answer for.

“The NSW government has been protecting the abalone industry at our expense. The damage they’ve done to our community is pretty bad.

When they put a bag limit and tell us we can only get two abalone when it’s been part of our diet for thousands of years…it’s changed our people’s diet. They’ve got heart disease, diabetes.”

Uncle Wally says the damage done is not only to their culture but to the natural environment.

“There’s nothing there anymore – there’s no kelp, there’s no lobsters, there’s no abalone, there’s no fish. It’s destroyed, all there is are sea urchins.

We watched our waters get destroyed by the way fisheries managed that.

So the major problem now is not only what they’ve done to our people but what they’ve done to our reefs, and the wider community need to understand.”

Solicitor Tristan Gaven is acting for the class action. He has previously been involved in major successful class actions for Stolen Wages and Stolen Generations survivors.

He says he hopes the case will put pressure on the government to change its policies.