Disturbing footage of an Aboriginal elder being chased into the sea and wrestled in the waves by an NSW fisheries officer has been revealed in a row about catch restrictions.
Great-grandfather Kevin Mason, 74, was fishing for abalone when he was ambushed on the shoreline by the officer demanding the elder’s capture.
The researcher chased the elder back into the sea before trying to grab the net with his loot, yelling, “Stop! I want to check those fish.’
But Mr. Mason refused, insisting he was a native titleholder and the officer tried to take his food from him.
Great-grandfather Kevin Mason, 74, (pictured) was fishing for abalone when he was ambushed on the shoreline by the officer demanding the elder’s capture
Mason was charged with resisting arrest following the incident near Narooma on the south coast of NSW three years ago and will appear in court on Thursday.
But the confrontation has renewed debate over Indigenous rights to hunt and gather marine products under Indigenous titling laws.
Mason maintains that his ancestors have fished in the area’s waters for thousands of years and are allowed to continue that tradition.
‘I’m Aboriginal, a native title holder, why not take anything I want anywhere in closed waters?’ Mr Mason told ABC’s 7:30 a.m.
“I’m entitled to it.”
But the confrontation has renewed debate over indigenous rights to hunt and gather marine products such as abalone (pictured) under indigenous title laws.
In the shock clip, apparently filmed on a bodycam attached to the fisheries officer, the investigator can follow Mr Mason as he emerges from the sea.
“Kevin, come with me, come on,” he shouts.
As Mr. Mason moves out of the way of the officer, he tells the elder, “I’m not going to hurt you, just stop bothering me.
“You know the rules.”
Moments later, Mason was reportedly charged on the shore and his fishing and snorkeling equipment confiscated.
Kevin Mason (pictured) insists that his ancestors have fished in the area’s waters for thousands of years and are allowed to continue that tradition.
He later said, ‘Just to see them [running towards him], it scared me.’
At the heart of the row are the legal catch limits for prized abalones just offshore, which can be worth more than $100/kg when sold overseas and to high-end restaurants.
In NSW, approximately 100 tons of abalone are harvested commercially each year, but non-commercial operators are legally allowed to take only two per person per day.
But the law is different for Aboriginal fishermen for cultural and traditional reasons.
At the heart of the row are the legal catch limits for prized abalones just offshore, which can be worth more than $100/kg when sold overseas and to high-end restaurants (Pictured, abalone for sale at Sydney Fish Market)
NSW laws enforced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries allow native fishermen to catch up to 10 abalones per day.
And for special cultural events, Aboriginal fishermen have even been licensed to land up to 1,000 abalones for special, pre-approved gatherings.
But Mr. Mason and other native fishermen believe that Commonwealth native titling laws allow them to take as much as they want, whenever they want, to feed their families.
“I will always have that right for my people to hunt and gather and feed my family,” added Mr. Mason.
A similar charge against Mason in 2018 was dropped at the last minute when he planned to use Indigenous title laws to defend himself (pictured, a protest over Aboriginal fishing rights out of court in 2018 ahead of Mr Mason’s hearing)
A similar charge against Mason in 2018 was dropped at the last minute when he planned to use the native title laws to defend himself.
Aboriginal lawyer Tony McAvoy warns that fear of persecution will deter many from exercising their fishing rights.
He claims that the police and fisheries compliance officers are not trained to know what indigenous property rights are in relation to fisheries.
Sean Sloan of the NSW DPI said officers should judge based on what they saw at the time.
But he insisted, “We absolutely support and respect the rights of all Aboriginal people to exercise their indigenous title and engage in cultural fishing.”
Indigenous rights attorney Tony McAvoy alleges police and fisheries compliance officers are not trained to know what Indigenous property rights are over fishing (photo, fresh abalone, straight from the sea)
NSW Abalone LAWS AND NATIVE TITLE LEGISLATION
Under normal circumstances, no one should carry more than two abalones at a time, within the catch limits set by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
However, to allow Aboriginal families to exercise their traditional rights to hunt and gather to feed their families, that limit for them is increased to ten per person per day.
In exceptional circumstances, indigenous groups can apply for a permit in advance to harvest much more for traditional large gatherings. Eight such permits have been issued in the past seven years. At a gathering of 500 people on the Far South Coast in 2014/15, 1000 abalone could be collected. Another in 2016/17 in Batemans Bay was given the green light to harvest 550.
The interpretation of the Commonwealth’s native title laws as it applies to the limits is a matter of legal debate. Under s 70(7), 71(4), 100(2) of the Act, Aboriginal people and members of their families are exempt from the provisions relating to the capture or killing of protected fauna, except with regard to birds of prey, parrots and endangered fauna, according to the Australian Law Reform Commission.
The director of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service found that ‘local Aboriginal Land Councils’ [should] are encouraged to take an active role in wildlife management to ensure populations are not endangered… In summary, the agency believes that Aboriginal hunting and gathering rights do not necessarily conflict with conservation values as far as locally common species are concerned.’
The finding implies that traditional hunting and gathering would pose no threat, with an interpretation that indigenous people can take what they need without consequences.