Project number: 2021-107
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $1,460,500.00
Principal Investigator: Katherine J. Cheshire
Organisation: NSW Department Of Primary Industries Port Stephens
Project start/end date: 2 Jul 2023 - 31 Aug 2028


Fish are totemic and a primary food source; and so are part of the deep cultural, spiritual and economic connections Aboriginal communities have to their waterways that are part of ‘Country’. Cultural knowledge tells us that when there’s more water availability cultural fishers experience increased total catches and greater diversity of target species, and they fish more (e.g. increase in recreational and subsistence fishing). These narratives also suggest that as a result of these improved cultural fishing opportunities, there are flow on socio-economic benefits to household budgets, diets of communities, social behaviours and mental health and well-being.

Water is sacred and living; and central to the cultural, social and spiritual identity of Aboriginal people, as well as to their livelihoods. Conceptual models underpinning western water management frameworks and decision making do not incorporate Aboriginal/First Nations socio-cultural complexity, local knowledge and governance arrangements. These are critical – Aboriginal/First Nations people have strong connections with fish, water, rivers and knowledge to contribute to planning, as well as a fundamental right to participate. Water and fish are central to the way of life, two-way knowledge and planning frameworks will support reciprocity in engagement and participation.

Two-Eyed Seeing Frameworks (Ganma, Yolgnu for two-ways) provide a way forward for cultural fishery assessments supporting equitable and sustainable access to shared resources. In this framework, knowledge systems (western and cultural) contribute in parallel, on an equal footing, and both serve as evidence bases to produce an enriched picture of mutual understanding. Application of this framework can empower Aboriginal communities to participate more equitably and negotiate by using their science and values and providing a method for inclusion.

The overall objective of this proposed project is to empower Aboriginal communities through application of a “Two-Eyed seeing framework” (Reid et al. 2020) to participate more equitably and negotiate for cultural fishing practices and water allocation and management. This project will define the cultural fishery and quantify the socio-economic value of cultural fishing in two NSW river regions, and assist communities to identify water management needs for key cultural fish species to support ongoing planning and negotiations. It will improve our current fishery and water management by providing a pathway for cultural fisheries and cultural science to be included. Overall, it will increase our current knowledge of fish and fisheries, by bridging the gap between cultural science and western science practitioners and knowledge holders to share understandings, insights and skills. The application and extension of this framework to a national project will be considered for future use in addressing cultural fishery allocations and management.


1. Identify suitable NSW riverine cultural fisheries, engage with Aboriginal Communities, Traditional Owners, codesign the project and confirm move to phase 2.
2. Define and quanitfy the cultural fishery and associated totemic, cultura and social values
3. Identify and describe fish objectives and water management needs for cultural fish species using the Fish and Flows Framework.
4. Determine if changes in (2) are related to changes in water availability, policy and operations and/or river restoration activities (e.g. fish passage restoration, cold water passage, screening), if possible.
5. Objectively assess the efficacy and utility of the “Two-Eyed Seeing framework” in assessing the totemic, culutal and social fishing values and linking them to the fish and flows framework, including consideration of National applicability.

Related research


Australian Fisheries and Aquaculture Statistics 2022

1. To maintain and improve the data base of production, gross value of production and trade statistics for the Australian fishing industry, including aquaculture.
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) ABARES