NSW government must stop pursuing indigenous fishermen if it is serious about closing the gap
The government needs to rethink what it is doing if it is to achieve the Close the Gap results it wants to see there.
In the first years of colonization, indigenous peoples played a crucial role in establishing the fishing industries on the south coast of NSW, but are now almost entirely excluded.
After colonization, the Aborigines continued to fish as a source of food, with some bartering and small-scale trade, called “cultural-commercial fishing”. The aborigines of the south coast are proud of their saltwater culture, but tired of being branded as “poachers” who plunder the ocean.
Meeting the objectives
The government of New South Wales signed on 2020 National agreement to close the gap which includes targets for “strong, sustained and flourishing” cultures and languages and for Aboriginal adults and youth to no longer be over-represented in the criminal justice system. Other targets focus on health and increasing employment and economic participation.
However, indigenous peoples are overrepresented among those imprisoned or convicted in New South Wales for offenses related to abalone fishing. Rather than supporting a thriving culture, the pursuit pursuit Aboriginal people on the south coast will not reduce Aboriginal incarceration, contribute to their jobs or improve their health.
Once Indigenous people have a criminal conviction, their chances of finding a job are dropping. And while fishing offers people healthy food and exercise, pursuing them for this act rather provokes stress. This is not conducive to a long healthy life.
Exclusion and poverty
There are high rates of poverty and unemployment among aboriginal people on the south coast; the two Eurobodalla and Bega the counties reflect that. Poor academic performance and long-standing racism has been The factors in this.
Harvested seafood has been a part of the diet of indigenous peoples of the south coast since before colonization. The sea has always been their supermarket, as Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) study recognized:
As a saltwater people, all the knowledge and practices related to marine foods are central to their culture and part of what makes it unique. This means that fishing and picking other seafood is one of the main ways people practice their culture. It’s also about getting out into the countryside and feeling connected to the country and ancestors by fishing and gathering as they did.
The ability of older people to take young people out fishing and diving is essential in order to pass on their knowledge of the marine environment. The AIATSIS study also found:
[…]taking children fishing is necessary for their cultural education. Through fishing, they gain cultural knowledge about the local flora and fauna, different fishing techniques and practices, knowledge of their country and the right places to get different species – as well as the stories of those places. They also learn the cultural laws that govern fishing.
Additionally, no review of Aboriginal cultural fishing or any fishing in NSW has identified this practice as having a negative impact on marine resources. As such, it is not clear why this persecution persists.
It cannot be about protecting fish stocks, as most Total Allowable Catch (TAC) assessments for the NSW coast, designed to manage stocks at sustainable levels, does not even collect data on catches of indigenous peoples.
Although some illegal abalone fishing is recognized in the Abalone TACOverall, abalone fishing in the state remains sustainable.
As AIATSIS find:
Many participants felt that cultural fishermen were unnecessarily over-regulated. To them it seemed hypocritical for fishing [NSW] to focus on the compliance of the small number of cultural fishermen, and for them to be qualified as threats to the marine environment, when their total catch is insignificant compared to that of commercial fisheries.
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Caught in a dead end
The government of New South Wales says his vision it is up to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to determine their own future. A clear message from Indigenous people of New South Wales is that maintaining their culture is central to their vision for the future.
Ironically, Indigenous people on the south coast are being asked to prove that they continue to practice this fishing culture in the assessment of their native title claim.
As the Commonwealth government Aboriginal Title Act requires them to demonstrate the maintenance of their cultural practices to gain their property rights, the state government pursues them and criminalizes them if they do so. It is a no-win situation.
The NSW government must end the harassment and prosecution of indigenous peoples for maintaining their cultural practices if the state is serious about closing the gap in incarceration, health and employment for indigenous communities.