Project number: 2009-038
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $84,916.00
Principal Investigator: Stephan B. Schnierer
Organisation: Southern Cross University (SCU) Lismore Campus
Project start/end date: 30 Jun 2009 - 29 Nov 2011


Sustainable fishing is based in part on management strategies that deliver an equitable share of the total catch to all users including indigenous fishers. Historically fisheries management agencies have ignored indigenous fishing rights which has resulted in restrictions on cultural practices which have contributed not only to a loss of access to traditional target species but a loss of traditional fisheries knowledge (TFK). In some cases indigenous people have been made to feel like criminals when accessing traditional target species for food or cultural purposes. Restrictions preventing cultural fishing can result in conflict, potential ‘non-compliance’ and a loss of TFK. There is strong international and national support for the protection of TFK (see UN Convention on Biological Diversity Article 8(j) and 10 (c), and the EPBC Act 1999.) The N.S.W. Indigenous Fisheries Strategy clearly articulates the need for research into indigenous fisheries as does the N.S.W. DPI.

The establishment of marine protected areas has often proceeded in N.S.W. without knowledge of customary fishing areas nor necessarily a willingness to accommodate cultural fishing. This will build a better picture of where and how much is being taken. Access to traditional foods is essential in insuring a healthier life style. Aboriginal people still assert a desire to procure a regular supply of fresh fish for personal and community consumption yet management regimes put in place to deal with ‘overfishing’ and/or dwindling stock sizes have yet to accommodate the need of indigenous communities to have access to traditional target species for food.

There are large information gaps in relation to;
(i) the size and location of the indigenous take of aquatic organisms in N.S.W.,
(ii) present day cultural associations with various target species (particularly freshwater species) and
(iii) the status of traditional fishing knowledge.

This project will begin to address these information gaps.


1. Determine what aquatic organisms (fish) are of specific cultural relevance to Traditional owner groups (identify species and their location)
2. Seek to quantify the indigenous catch (species, numbers, weight, frequency of fishing) at the level of Traditional Owner groups.
3. Develop an ongoing research partnership with Traditional Owner groups based on trust to be able to move to the documentation on traditional fishing knowledge and the establishment of community owned and control data base.
4. Build capacity of indigenous people to conduct fisheries related research.

Final report

ISBN: 978-0-646-56829-4
Author: Stephan Schnierer
Final Report • 2012-05-04 • 2.45 MB


This report presents the results of a Fisheries Research Development Corporation (FRDC) funded study of Aboriginal fisheries in New South Wales. A key objective of the study was to address information gaps in relation to catch, cultural significance of species and traditional fishing knowledge (TFK) needs. Due to project resources, the scope of this study was limited to a single site in far north New South Wales, the Tweed River Catchment, in partnership with the site’s Traditional Owners, the Minjungbal people. An important outcome of this project was the development of a culturally appropriate methodology to collect Indigenous cultural fishing data, which it is hoped will form the basis of further research into cultural fishing across New South Wales.

Related research


Developing a Kimberley Aboriginal Mud Crab Fishery

1. Determine the biology and distribution of mud crab species (Scylla serrata and S. olivacea) in King Sound and Cambridge Gulf areas of the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) WA