The NSW Parliament’s ‘Portfolio Committee 4’ has handed down its report into the delayed commencement of the Fisheries Management Amendment Act 2009. The report calls for an end to surveillance, compliance operations and prosecution actions on Indigenous cultural fishing and lays blame at the DPI Fisheries Compliance Unit, and specifically Fisheries Officers, including questioning their training and culture.
NSW Fisheries Officers are tired of being the scapegoat for decades of failures by governments to properly recognise and facilitate cultural fishing rights. Other Australian state and territory jurisdictions have long ago taken the hard and necessary steps to properly support and cater for legitimate cultural fishing activity including giving legitimate Aboriginal fishers an economic stake in the commercial fishing sector.
However, successive NSW governments have failed to implement contemporary law enforcement legislative tools and capability for Fisheries Officers to properly and concisely, detect and deal with serious illegal fishing that seriously compromises the fishery resource. Against the odds, Fisheries Officers have had to utilise vastly inadequate surveillance and investigative techniques that have continued to put our members in this impossible and dangerous position. This inaction has also proliferated the enormous misinformation and political interference campaigns that are being successfully pushed by certain groups and individuals. The result being that genuine cultural fishing activity has been jeopardized and officers put in ridiculously difficult situations that have led to wholly false claims of misapplication of law and powers.
Fisheries Officers have been severely let down by this government and its inability to administer appropriate and timely negotiations with indigenous communities to begin this legislative reform. In addition, the Government has not explored alternatives such as widespread Local Management Plans, with only one currently in place.
Fisheries Officers are enthusiastic supporters of legitimate cultural fishing and its links to facilitating Aboriginal people’s connection to Country. We want to see the NSW Government enact legislation and provide the necessary resources to make this grey area crystal clear for all.
The PSA also wants to see more financial and logistical assistance provided to local Indigenous communities to enable commercial enterprises and quota allocations. It is important Indigenous communities have a clear role either through cultural fishing rights or commercial ventures, that their status as custodians of the land and water deserve.
Our Fisheries Officers continue to undertake compliance activities so that future generations have access to seafood and resources from the waterways and oceans in NSW. It is now abundantly clear the current legislation is no longer fit for purpose.
It is now time for this government or any future government to recognise the fundamental deficiencies that exist in the current Fisheries Management Act and to properly legislate for the administration of those compliance operations.
NSW need only look to other more forward-thinking jurisdictions such as Victoria and Western Australia for guidance on properly equipping and enabling Fisheries Officers to do the work that is expected of them to detect and address serious illegal fishing crime that directly and negatively impacts on the fishery resource so cherished by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.