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March 6, 2021

Arakwal people fishing for their rights

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Eve Jeffery

The state government’s failure to endorse traditional Aboriginal fishing and hunting rights was highlighted over the weekend as Aboriginal people of coastal regions protested against NSW Fisheries regulations.

‘We are here this weekend to make a statement to Marine Parks and NSW Fisheries in regards to our natural resource collection’, said Yvonne Stewart speaking on behalf of the Arakwal people of Byron Bay.

‘We believe that the state government really needs to start looking at the needs of Aboriginal people and their access and their rights to their cultural resources.’

Mrs Stewart says that she believes that the local Aboriginals have tried very hard over ten years to find some resolution so that they can manage country and have access to the their resources.

She says that the local mob fished and gathered food in the area over the weekend in protest against Fisheries restrictions.

Yvonne says that the midden that the boat ramp at the Pass is built on top of was established about 1500 hundred years ago and is of cultural significance to the Arakwal and other Indigenous people in the area.

‘This place holds our culture’, she said. ‘It tells a story. It’s part of who we are. We have been coming to this place for so long.

‘We want to continue to come here and we want to bring all of our jarjums here and exercise our right to go fishing.’

Current zonings

Currently the zoning puts the area, up to the shoreline, from halfway between Clarkes and The Pass, all the way around the cape to the lighthouse in a Sanctuary Zone, a ‘no-take’ area.

This covers the area of shoreline adjacent to the Arakwal’s midden site under the boat ramp at the Pass. The area from the lighthouse to Kings Beach in the south and Clarkes to the Belongil at the west is a habitat zone, which means recreational and some forms of commercial fishing and fishing competitions are allowable, though several species are protected within this area. The only areas for general fishing are some distance from the shore and would require access by sea craft.

BEC supportive

The Byron Environment Centre (BEC) members and management committee also went on record as supporting the Arakwal Bundjalung people of Byron’s civil disobedience protest. ‘The BEC supports the Arakwal campaign to allow all Aboriginal people the right to fish and collect seafood for their personal, and their family’s, consumption, irrespective of any restrictions placed on the wider society, and irrespective of Marine Park or any other zoning restrictions’, said convenor of the centre John Lazarus.

The Aboriginal people of the Tweed will hold a protest next weekend and Yvonne hopes that communities up and down the New South Wales seaboard will join in.

‘We ask all communities in NSW to organise their families and community and go out to your favourite fishing grounds and gather, dive, fish and take what ever you need to feed your family’, says Yvonne.

‘Let your local Fisheries and Marine Parks authority and your local media know in advance what your community and families are planning’.

No decision: MP

A spokesperson for Ballina MP Don Page’s office told The Echo, ‘We have followed up with Minister Hodgkinson’s office who says that no decision has been made in relation to Arakwal people’s right to access fishing in the Cape Byron Marine Park. Ms Hodgkinson’s office says the latest representations and protests will be part of that decision-making process.’

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