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Increased Fishing Opportunities for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal People

16 February 2015

AUSTRALIA - Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people now have 100 per cent ownership of the commercial Bêche-de-mer Fishery in the Torres Strait after the purchase of the last non-Indigenous commercial fishing licence.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck have recognised the significance of this purchase by the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

“Last year the Protected Zone Joint Authority supported the aspirations of 100 per cent ownership of Torres Strait commercial fisheries by Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people,” Senator Colbeck said.

“The Australian Government is committed to improving the circumstances for Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people and supports the transition of this fishery to traditional ownership.”

“This is now the second commercial fishery in the Torres Strait to be completely owned by the traditional owners and is an important step forward to achieve a commercially viable fishing industry for Torres Strait communities.”

Senator Scullion said this is a great example of the Australian Government helping to empower Indigenous communities.

“A profitable fishing industry in the Torres Strait is crucial for local communities,” Senator Scullion said.

“This Government’s investment of A$1.5 million to support complete ownership by Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Communities of the commercial Bêche-de-mer Fishery will increase industry opportunities and help traditional inhabitants achieve financial independence.”

“During my recent visit to the Torres Strait I spoke to local communities about this Government’s commitment to support local Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal employment and business development.

“The purchase of this fishing licence demonstrates how this Government is supporting Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people make the most of native title rights that have been recognised over the sea to promote their own economic independence.

“I call on other governments and stakeholders, especially the Indigenous Land Corporation, to acknowledge the recognition of native title sea rights by supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership of fisheries.“

TSRA Chairperson, Joseph Elu, said he worked closely with the Australian Government to secure the transfer of this licence.

“This important outcome will allow greater access to the fishery by Indigenous fishers in the region and provide economic benefits to Torres Strait communities,” Mr Elu said.

Commercial and traditional fishing in the Australian area of the Torres Strait is managed by the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA). Members of the PZJA are the Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture (as Chair), the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the Chair of the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

Fishing for Bêche-de-mer is conducted mainly by diving from dinghies crewed by two to three fishers or by hand collection along reefs at low tide. It is then dried and shipped to markets mainly in Asia.

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