What lies beyond that high water mark

Thursday, 2 June 2016
Keith Rory
Lorrae McArthur

Aboriginal peoples’ traditional economies and customary rights of lands and waters goes well beyond the high tide mark and are still yet to be fully realised in Government perspectives for policy and economic development. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory control access to 84% of the intertidal area, two closed seas and registered sacred sites under various Territory legislations and hold Native Title and other vested interests in sea country. Yet their translation into regulatory frameworks remains abstract when examining fisheries management and thus, effectually diminished. The legacy of the High Court decision on the ‘Blue Mud Bay’ case has had little influence on Government’s management of fisheries and is largely ‘unfinished business’. Fishing sectors essentially have unfettered access to the intertidal area over Aboriginal Land. Little benefit from commercial and recreational fisheries is returned to coastal communities even though these industries rely heavily on access to the intertidal area. Aboriginal people hold only about 5% of fishery jobs and even less hold commercial licences even though they make up 50% of the population and are the greatest demographic in coastal communities. What lies past the high tide mark is Aboriginal sovereignty and with it must be opportunities to support remote Aboriginal communities to participate in culture based economies. Engagement in fishery industries and fisheries management and service delivery will enable sustainable economic development at the same time as maintaining customary economies and practices for future generations.