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Indigenous fishing activity in northern Australian waters
For many Indigenous people, fishing is an important source of food and nutrition. It is also an invaluable component of their cultural lifestyle and is connected to the traditional responsibilities of land management and kinship.
A survey of Indigenous fishing activity was conducted in 2000-01 as part of the broader Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey. The survey covered Indigenous persons, aged five years and older and living in 44 coastal communities across northern Australia from Broome (Western Australia) to Cairns (Queensland). An estimated 37,000 Indigenous persons from these communities fished at least once in a period of 12 months between June 2000 and November 2001. This was a participation rate of almost 92%. They harvested aquatic animals from a range of environments, but inshore waters accounted for more than half the fishing effort. Indigenous fishers used line fishing (53% of the time), hand collection (26%), nets (12%) and spears (9%) as their primary fishing methods.
Indigenous fishers from the coastal communities surveyed harvested a broader range of species and employed non-line fishing techniques to a greater level than recreational fishers did nationally. Recreational and Indigenous fishers harvested the full range of common finfish species inhabiting northern Australian waters. However, Indigenous fishers harvested a greater range of non-fish species (crabs, shellfish) than the recreational fishers and these non-fish species formed a greater proportion of the Indigenous catch. Recreational and Indigenous fishers used similar fishing methods but a higher proportion of the Indigenous catch was taken with spears and hand collection methods.
Using all methods, Indigenous fishers harvested more than 3.3 million aquatic animals from the waters of northern Australia. The harvest included approximately 910,000 finfish, 1,100,000 shellfish, 655,000 prawns and yabbies, 181,000 crabs and lobsters, and 98,000 small baitfish. The most prominent finfish species in the Indigenous catch were mullet, catfish, sea perch/snappers, bream and barramundi. Most prominent non-fish species in the Indigenous catch were mussels, cherabin, other bivalves, prawns, oysters and mud crabs. As well, Indigenous fishers harvested a number of species groups that had protected status for non-Indigenous people, including crocodiles, turtles and dugong. A small proportion of the Indigenous catch (1.7%) was returned to the water.
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, <http://www.affa.gov.au/recfishsurvey>.