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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries

Customary fishing - frequently asked questions

What is customary fishing and what makes it different from other types of fishing?

Customary fishing applies to an Aboriginal person who has a traditional connection with the area being fished and is fishing for personal, domestic, ceremonial, educational or non‐commercial needs.

It has a different purpose to commercial and recreational fishing. Commercial fishing is focused on making profits from catching and selling fish; and recreational fishing focuses on having fun, enjoying the experience and taking home a feed for the family. The purpose of customary fishing is centred on cultural needs and values.

Why does Western Australia need a customary fishing policy?

The law in Western Australia has recognised customary fishing by Aboriginal people as separate to other types of fishing since 1905. We introduced the  customary fishing policy to ensure our policies and practices are consistent with national and international laws that acknowledge that Aboriginal people have rights to fish and hunt in accordance with ongoing tradition and culture. The policy does not give any new rights to Aboriginal people.

The customary fishing policy also removes some of the legal uncertainty about fishing rules that apply to Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

Are there separate rules for customary fishing?

Customary fishing is a separate sector to commercial or recreational fishing, which both have their own sets of rules. In some cases customary fishing rules are exactly the same as commercial fishing or recreational fishing rules, for instance where highly restrictive fishing rules are needed to protect certain species or certain areas. In other cases, fishing rules are different.

Sustainability of fish stocks is a priority of customary fishing arrangements.

What happens if customary fishers break customary fishing rules?

Whether a person fishes as a commercial fisher, a recreational fisher or a customary fisher, they must act within fisheries law, which is set down to ensure sustainability of fish stocks. We have education and enforcement programs to ensure people are aware of fishing rules and, if necessary, take steps to enforce those rules.

Can fish caught by customary fishers be sold?

Customary fishers do not have rights to fish commercially. The sale of fish without a commercial fishing authorisation is against the law.

Is customary fishing limited to using ‘traditional’ fishing methods?

It’s okay for customary fishers to use modern fishing methods such as using aluminium boats and outboard motors. Customary fishing is about the intent of the activity, not the fishing gear used. Just as recreational and commercial fishing continues to evolve and benefit from the introduction of technology such as echo sounders, chemically sharpened hooks, braid line and GPS, Aboriginal cultures and fishing practices are also evolving by adopting new technologies.

When considering the types of fishing gear that can be used for customary fishing, the overarching consideration will be the long‐term sustainability of fish resources.

Do all Aboriginal people have customary fishing rights?

To fish under customary fishing rules, it must take place in an area where the person has a connection recognised by Traditional Owners of that area. It is for customary law to decide which individuals have customary fishing rights in a particular area. Where these qualifications are not met, an Aboriginal person can still go fishing, but must fish under recreational fishing rules and not customary fishing rules.

Aboriginal people will not need a licence for customary fishing.

Is there a difference between customary fishing and Native title?

The Native Title Act 1993 is a law of the Commonwealth and provides for native title holders to continue their tradition of hunting and fishing on lands and waters where they have a connection. However, the Act was not framed with the intention that customary fishing could take place in an unregulated fashion, without regard to state and territory fisheries laws. It recognises that states and territories are free to make their own laws that regulate customary fishing, so long as these laws are not in conflict with the fishing rights provided for in the Native Title Act.

Does customary fishing include hunting for crocodile, turtle and dugong?

No; hunting for crocodile, turtle and dugong is managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and is not included in our customary fishing policy.

Last modified: 30/09/2015 2:50 PM

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