Traditional owners halted commercial barramundi fishing in an NT bay over marine life concerns. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)
Indigenous custodians in the Northern Territory have blocked commercial barramundi fishing in a major bay over concerns about wildlife and catch sizes.
The Northern Land Council on Wednesday announced traditional owners were cancelling the waiver allowing commercial operators to fish in intertidal waters of Buckingham Bay in East Arnhem Land.
The move was made due to concerns about marine life being caught in gillnets and the amount of fish being taken from the area, the council said.
Recreational fishing access in Buckingham Bay will continue, and commercial fishing in other areas of the Northern Territory will not be affected.
NLC chair Samuel Bush-Blanasi said he hoped the decision would act as a catalyst for the government to include Aboriginal people in fisheries management.
“Traditional owners have been raising concerns for a long time, but the NT government doesn’t want to listen,” he said.
“We want to work together, but the government needs to demonstrate they are serious in engaging with and listening to Aboriginal people.”
Since the 2008 Blue Mud Bay decision, traditional owners have been afforded legal rights to the intertidal zone of Aboriginal land.
In the 15 years since, Aboriginal people have allowed access to their waters through a series of waivers, enabling commercial operators to access areas without formal agreements or regulated compensation for the landowners.
Dr Bush-Blanasi said the change of access was not permanent, but that agreements relating to commercial barramundi fishing in the region will not be processed until traditional owners were satisfied the government had addressed their concerns.
Traditional owners are worried about the impacts of gill-netting and a decline in barramundi fish stocks in localised remote locations.
There is currently no quota for the commercial barramundi fishery.
The NLC said Yolngu people of East Arnhem Land have seen concerning amounts of bycatch washing up on their coastlines, attracting crocodile activity and creating safety concerns for communities.
Traditional owner Guyulen/Helen Guyula said Yolngu wanted their environment to be safe.
“We hunt sustainably, we hunt according to the seasons,” she said.
“We don’t like current commercial practice – they throw the little ones or the ones they don’t want back.
“We’ve found heaps of turtle, dolphin, crocodile and small barramundi washed up on the beach. Why get them all and then throw them away?”