Blue Mud Bay: Over 100 TO groups consulted in two months

Date: Oct 30, 2020

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Sea Rights

Over 110 saltwater Traditional Owner groups have been consulted in relation to the Blue Mud Bay Action Plan since mid-September.

THE NLC continues to work towards an equitable agreement over the High Court’s 2008 Blue Mud Bay decision, which recognised that Traditional Owners have the right to control access to waters overlying Aboriginal land including the intertidal zone.

The NLC wants an agreement that will benefit Aboriginal people and ensure the fisheries are sustainable.

“Any agreement going forward will need to be ratified and agreed to by the NLC’s full council,” said NLC CEO Marion Scrymgour.

Over the past six months, the land council has met with various stakeholders, including the Tiwi and Anindilyakwa land councils, the Seafood Council, the Amateur Fishermen’s Association and NT Guided Fishing Industry Association.

In July 2020, the NLC and the NT Government agreed in principle to the Blue Mud Bay Implementation Action Plan.

Ms Scrymgour said the first step is the reform of the Fisheries Act 1988 (NT) to “accommodate Aboriginal rights and interests that flow from the Blue Mud Bay decision”.

“The NT has never had contemporary legislation that encompasses the sea-country rights of Traditional Owners, including increased involvement in fisheries management for Traditional Owners and greater responsibilities for Aboriginal sea rangers,” said Ms Scrymgour.

The amended Fisheries Act will be released for community consultation in the form of a draft as soon as possible.

The second step under the action plan is establishing an Aboriginal sea company. This entity will own fishing licences and quotas, and help facilitate more participation of Traditional Owners in the seafood industry. Also under the agreement, the NT Government has committed to expanding Aboriginal Coastal Licences, which will allow Traditional Owners to catch and sell a wider variety of fish using a greater range of gear.

In exchange for NTG’s commitments, the NLC is seeking a two-year extension of the open access arrangements to Aboriginal tidal waters, commencing January 2021.

To facilitate this request in the second half of 2020, the NLC’s Legal, Anthropology, Regional Development and Sea Country teams consulted over 110 saltwater Traditional Owner groups from across the Top End.

Feedback so far has been generally supportive - Traditional Owners have said they want protection for marine sacred sites and recognition of their sea rights out to the horizon line. Coastal communities also want their food security protected.