Aboriginal Fishing in Victoria

The Victorian Fisheries Authority proudly acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the lands and waters on which we live and work and pay our respect to their Elders past and present.

We recognise Victoria’s First Nations peoples and that fishing is an integral part of the cultural and economic life of coastal and inland Aboriginal communities.

The VFA understands that Aboriginal people know what is best for themselves, their families and communities and is committed to making Aboriginal self-determination a reality.

The VFA is also working hard to strengthen our partnerships with all Traditional Owner groups and to incorporate the rights, interests, aspirations and culture of Aboriginal people into all that we do and how we work each day.

Aboriginal Fishing Strategy

The VFA’s Aboriginal Fishing Strategy has shaped our approach to addressing customary fishing, economic development opportunities and increasing Aboriginal Victorians’ participation in fisheries management. A copy of the Strategy can be found here.

The Strategy has served Victoria well. However, it is now due for review and we’ve started consultation with registered Aboriginal parties about their views on the existing Strategy and potential improvements.

We also welcome feedback from other interested people with suggestions on how we can update and improve this important VFA strategy.

To get involved, send us your written feedback please send your emails to: Craig.ingram@vfa.vic.gov.au

Traditional Owner access to fish

Members of Traditional Owner groups and Aboriginal Victorians have legal rights to access fish for personal, communal and cultural purposes. These rights are established under Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Agreement Act 2010 and the Fisheries Act 1995 and the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

Accessing fish under native title

Members of Traditional Owner groups who have native title can take fish within the area of native title for personal, communal and cultural purposes, without the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence.

Traditional owners taking fish under their native title rights are not constrained by recreational fishing rules (e.g. size and bag limits, methods and season dates), but must comply with laws of general application (e.g. members can’t take prohibited species or fish in areas where fishing is prohibited) and must not use the fish for commercial purposes.

Accessing fish under the Traditional Owner Settlement Agreement Act 2010

Members of Traditional Owner groups who have reached settlement under Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 can also take fish on Crown land or on their own properties within their settlement area for personal, communal and cultural purposes, without the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence.

The VFA has made a commitment to enable Traditional Owners themselves to decide how many fish are taken and how and when they are taken when accessing fish under Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 agreements.

However, at the time of writing, the existing settlement agreements require Traditional Owners to comply with all other rules imposed on recreational fishers (e.g. existing size and bag limits, methods and season dates).

Traditional owners taking fish under a Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 agreement must not use the fish for commercial purposes.

General exemption for Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders

Victoria also has in place a broad exemption from the requirement to obtain a Recreational Fishing Licence for any person who identifies as an Aboriginal person or a Torres Strait Islander, subject to compliance with all other recreational fishing rules that apply to recreational fishers in Victoria (e.g. bag limits, size limits, spatial and temporal closures).

This exemption applies to all traditional owners in Victoria, irrespective of whether they are a member of a group that has a native title determination or a settlement agreement under the TOS Act.

This exemption does not allow Aboriginal person or a Torres Strait Islanders to use the fish for commercial purposes.

 

Member of a Traditional Owner Group with native title under the Native Title Act 1993

Member of a Traditional Owner Group with a settlement agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010

Any person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. 

Exempt from a recreational fishing licence

Yes

Yes

Yes

Do members or persons identifying as Aboriginal need to comply with all other recreational fishing rules (e.g. catch and size limits)

No, but laws of general application apply (e.g. members can’t take prohibited species or fish in areas where fishing is prohibited)

Yes, however the VFA has agreed to remove this requirement in all new and revised settlement agreements, subject to compliance with a set of overarching principles.

Yes

Can the fish be used for commercial purposes

No

No

No

Agreements with Traditional Owners

Victoria currently has several agreements Traditional Owner groups. These agreements help restore rights to Traditional Owners, including rights to access to fish for traditional or communal purposes on public land.

The Agreements also place obligations on the VFA to ensure we advise and consult with Traditional Owner groups on important aspects of fishing management on country.

The Gunaikurnai people hold native title over Crown land across much of Gippsland and in 2010, the State and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) also entered into an agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.

The native title determination and agreement requires the VFA to:

  • notify and consult with the Gunaikurnai prior to the grant of any licence or permit within the area held under native title (i.e. all public land and all waterbodies within land held under native title), where a licence or permit may extinguish native title rights and interests or if it is otherwise wholly or partly inconsistent with their continued existence, enjoyment or exercise.
  • collaborate with the corporation on the employment of Gunaikurnai People to work on the Aboriginal title lands and elsewhere within the agreement area.
  • request and fund ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies by Gunaikurnai People for all major events where members of the public, representatives of other Governments and/or the media are present. This includes major festivals, major launches of policies and programs and conferences held or sponsored by the VFA.
  • incorporate a ‘Welcome to Country’ into other events, where the Gunaikurnai believes it is appropriate.

More information on the Gunaikurnai native title agreement can be found at: Gunaikurnai Native Title Agreement | Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria

The Gunditjmara People hold native title over some 140,000 hectares of public land across the southwest of Victoria, including the Lower Glenelg National Park, Mt Richmond National Park and Mt Eccles National Park as well as Lake Condah and State Forests including Cobboboonee State Forest, Dunmore State Forest and Hotspur State Forest.

This determination is supported by an agreement between the State and the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (GMTOAC), the representative body for the Gunditjmara People.

The native title determination and agreement requires the VFA to:

  • notify and consult with the Gunditjmara prior to the grant of any licence or permit within the area held under native title (i.e. all public land and all waterbodies within land held under native title), where a licence or permit may extinguish native title rights and interests or if it is otherwise wholly or partly inconsistent with their continued existence, enjoyment or exercise.
  • develop and implement a Customary and Traditional Fishing Policy consistent with the National Indigenous Fishing Strategy, for the agreement area.
  • hold regular meetings with the Gunditjmara in relation to the take of natural resources to:
  • consider collaborative research relating to the monitoring and health of fish species
  • provide educational materials and resources about natural resource laws and species identification
  • allow the Gunditjmara to be involved in the design and delivery of controls and management programmes for sustainable management of natural resources in the ILUA Area.
  • consider ways Gunditjmara expertise and experience can be shared with the State.

More information on the Gunditjmara native title agreement can be found at: Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar peoples | Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria

In March 2013 the State and the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DDWCAC), on behalf of the Dja Dja Wurrung traditional owner group, entered into a settlement agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 which recognises the Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of approximately 266,000 hectares of public land in Central Victoria.

The agreement includes a Land Use Activity Agreement and a Natural Resource Agreement that requires the VFA to:

  • to notify and consult with the Dja Dja Wurrung on the preparation of any fisheries management plans relevant to public land in the agreement area.
  • Provide the Dja Dja Wurrung with an opportunity to actively participate in the development and implementation of any fisheries management plans in the Agreement Area.
  • notify and consult with the Dja Dja Wurrung if any of the following are constructed on public land in the agreement area:
  • fish ladders;
  • sport or recreation facilities (unless earth moving is required);
  • pump, bore or other works on a waterway;
  • lighting of public places;
  • a jetty or wharf;
  • a tide gauge.
  • notify the Dja Dja Wurrung about, and where it expresses an interest, provide an opportunity to actively participate in the development and review of any natural resource management policies and regional strategic plans that affect the Agreement Area in whole or part. This includes the annual decision-making process to stock fish into rivers and impoundments.
  • notify the Dja Dja Wurrung about, and where it expresses an interest, provide for engagement in collaborative research, and providing skills training where practical.
  • facilitate discussions between existing aquaculture industry and training providers where the Dja Dja Wurrung express an interest in pursuing aquaculture opportunities on country.
  • provide reasonable prior notification to the Dja Dja Wurrung of the recruitment to indigenous-identified fisheries management positions in the Agreement Area.

A copy of the Dja Dja Wurrung Settlement Agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 can be found at: Dja Dja Wurrung settlement commences | Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria

In October 2018, the Taungurung Land and Waters Council Aboriginal Corporation, entered into a settlement agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. However, this agreement is currently subject to legal proceedings.

A copy of the Taungurung Settlement Agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 can be found at: Taungurung Recognition and Settlement Agreement | Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria

The Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Yupagalk People hold native title over certain areas of Crown land in Western Victoria, including parts of the Little Desert National Park.

This determination is supported by an agreement between the State and the Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BGLCAC), which is the representative body for the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Yupagalk People (known as the Wimmera group).

The native title determination and agreement requires the VFA to:

  • notify and consult with the Wimmera group prior to the grant of any licence or permit within the area held under native title (i.e. all public land and all waterbodies within land held under native title), where a licence or permit may extinguish native title rights and interests or if it is otherwise wholly or partly inconsistent with their continued existence, enjoyment or exercise.
  • grant a group Recreational Fishing Licence to Barenji Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation for taking fish from all inland waters within agreement area, for any purpose other than for sale.
  • involve the Winyula Council (a council established under the agreement) in the development of management plans, strategies, prescriptions and other instruments that affect public land in the Agreement Area in whole or part.
  • involve the Winyula Council in the development and review of works programs that affect public land in the Agreement Area in whole or part.

In 2004, the State and the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation have entered into a Co-operative Management Agreement and Traditional Owner Land Management Agreement relevant to certain parcels of public land in north central Victoria. Under these agreements, the VFA is obliged to:

  • must seek advice from the Yorta Yorta Joint Body in relation to any management plans or works programs within the agreement area.
  • engage the Yorta Yorta to assist with the implementation of departmental policies, programs and services within the designated areas wherever possible.