Local Indigenous people claim they have been prevented from undertaking traditional fishing and harvesting pipis in the region by a decade of inaction on the part of NSW Fisheries & Marine Parks.
They say that instead priority is being given to commercial fishers and registered recreational anglers because of the revenue and political support they represent.
The Arakwal people of Byron Bay have organised a protest against the department on December 15 and 16 to highlight ‘a total lack of engagement from the Liberal/National state government’.
Arakwal people of Byron Bay CEO, Yvonne Stewart, says she’s ‘fed up’ with the department after waiting ten years for a Cultural Resource Agreement to be endorsed.
Ms Stewart told Echonetdaily that after an initial meeting with marine parks, no further communication has been forthcoming. ‘It’s been a challenge to get the department to respond to our letters and correspondence,’ she said.
‘I have no faith in this present government when it comes to working with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal people in this state.’
Echonetdaily tried repeatedly to contact the MP responsible for NSW fisheries & marine parks, primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson (Nationals), but her media advisers failed to respond.
Ms Stewart also claims a designated Aboriginal marine parks ranger position in the Cape Byron Marine Park remains vacant.
‘Fisheries are the only government department in NSW that doesn’t work with Aboriginal communities or employ Aboriginal people in their department.’
Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding and Indigenous land-use agreements are not being honoured, she claims.
‘They can give out a licence to harvest our beaches for pipis and wipe them out in a couple of days, but that’s legal because they have a licence from fisheries to rape our resources.
‘When we go out and take a feed of pipis and take a little extra to share with our families and elders, we are prosecuted and made out to be criminals.
‘Ask yourself who is the real criminal here? The one with the licence that harvests our marine resources or Aboriginal people accessing their marine resources, getting a feed for their families?
‘Aboriginal people have the highest diabetes rate in this country because of our diet; we can’t afford to pay this high price for our marine resources when most have low incomes and live below the poverty line.
‘Being able to access our marine resources is part of our traditional rights, our sovereignty. It also has a number of positive effects on our lives.
‘For example, we are exercising when we are gathering, fishing or diving, and, most importantly we are practising our culture rights and passing our culture onto our children.’
Mrs Stewart says after a 15-year process and three Indigenous land-use agreements, the state government, ‘with the stroke of a pen, slapped in a marine park and told us, “you can’t take those resources anymore or use it like you used to”’.
‘It has stripped away everything we worked so hard to get.
‘Fisheries treat our marine resources like a pie, and divide it up into slices, and whoever pays the most money gets the biggest slice. Indigenous fishing is not in the equation; we don’t get a slice of this pie. It’s not hard to see that recreational fishermen in NSW are major stakeholders in the state and have over 100,000 members just in Sydney alone.
‘This brings in a lot of revenue for fisheries, so they have a big influence on this government, whether their fishing practice is good or bad. It’s called politics, so let us Aboriginal people in NSW play politics too. We ask all Aboriginal people in NSW to come together on the weekend of December 15 and 16 in protest against Fisheries and Marine Parks legislations.
‘Go out to your favourite family spots in your country and gather, dive, fish and exercise your sovereignty rights, take whatever you want and make a stand in NSW for our children’s future, and keep our culture alive.’ Mrs Stewart is encouraging those wishing to get involved to contact her on her Facebook site.
MP Page responds
Minister for north coast and local Ballina MP Don Page told Echonetdaily, ‘I am concerned about Yvonne Stewart’s comments and was unaware of any problems…
‘I will contact fisheries and marine parks regarding any unfilled positions associated with the Cape Byron Marine Park.’