Another year of unrestricted access to Aboriginal waters

OUR LAND: Marine rangers off Arafura Swamp, in east Arnhem Land. Photo: Peter Hannam.
OUR LAND: Marine rangers off Arafura Swamp, in east Arnhem Land. Photo: Peter Hannam.

Top End fishermen will enjoy another year of unrestricted access to Aboriginal owned waters. 

For a decade the NT Government and Traditional Owners have fought over who controls access to the majority of the Top End coastline. 

The High Court in 2008 decided that the intertidal zone is Aboriginal land.

Since the High Court’s decision 10 years ago, an interim agreement has been put in place to allow fishermen unrestricted access to Aboriginal waters. 

The NT Government authorises access, but Indigenous leaders want that control. 

The Northern Land Council approved the 12 month waiver extension today. 

The waiver gives certainty for another year to the commercial sector to be able to continue fishing in the intertidal zone under their existing licences.

About half of the land in the NT has become Aboriginal land in addition to 85 percent of the coastline.  A large proportion of the remaining land mass is subject to Native Title interests.

Primary Industry and Resources minister Ken Vowles, today welcomed the decision by the Northern Land Council to extend the Blue Mud Bay agreement for another 12 months.

Mr Vowles said the extension means until December 31 2018, fishers can continue to access intertidal waters in areas that may not yet have a Blue Mud Bay access agreement.

“This provides a further 12 months to develop and implement more permanent access arrangements,” Mr Vowles said.

CONTROL GAME: The battle to control NT coastlines rages on between the NT Government and Traditional Owners.

CONTROL GAME: The battle to control NT coastlines rages on between the NT Government and Traditional Owners.

The NT Government has identified three priority areas for negotiating permit-free access; the lower Finniss River, the Roper River and the Mini Mini Murganella area.

“Over the next year we will continue to be part of negotiations to reach a more permanent arrangement for access to waters affected by the Blue Mud Bay decision,” Mr Vowles said.

“By working together, we can meet the aspirations of Aboriginal people and provide certainty about ongoing access to fishers.”

Read more about Blue Mud Bay permits.

All fishers already have unrestricted access to seven “high value” recreational fishing areas where agreements between Traditional Owners and the Northern Territory Government have been negotiated.

Without a continuing waiver over the rest of the intertidal zone, recreational fishers would need to obtain permits, and commercial operators would need to secure agreements under the Land Rights act to be able to operate legally.

Beyond those areas where agreements have been made, the NLC has this year conducted extensive consultations with Traditional Owners to ascertain their views about access to the intertidal zone and management of their sea country.

The NLC was told in Tennant Creek this week that all Traditional Owners consulted wanted to control access to their intertidal areas, and some communities were opposed to extending a permit waiver.

The Full Council accepted that the NLC would not be able to have a strong permit and licensing system in place by the end of this year, when the current waiver is due to expire.

The new waiver will allow the NLC time to build an effective permit system and to commence negotiations with commercial fishers for them to continue operating in the intertidal zone.

NLC CEO Joe Morrison said Traditional Owners wanted a real role in managing the NT fisheries for all Territorians.

“The NLC will continue to work cooperatively with the Northern Territory Seafood Council, the Amateur Fishermen’s Association of the Northern Territory and the NT Guided Fishing Industry Association,” Mr Morrison said.