Push to end fishing by indigenous ‘outlaws’

  • Rachel Baxendale and Sarah Elks
  • The Australian
  • November 04, 2013 12:00AM
Green Island

An indigenous man fishes off the Green Island tourist area in the protected Great Barrier Reef last week. Picture: Brian Cassey Source: TheAustralian

THE federal government is on the verge of securing a moratorium on indigenous hunting of turtles and dugongs at some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most picturesque tourist destinations.

Tourism operators and conservationists have stepped up calls for the practice, enshrined by native title, to be stopped in protected sea areas called “green zones”, such as the waters surrounding Green Island and Michaelmas Cay, both off Cairns.

Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises general manager of operations Steve Davies said he had seen rogue hunters kill turtles, dugongs and giant clams in front of startled tourists.

“The amount of wildlife that’s been taken out of Green Island is completely unsustainable . . . there’s an exclusion around the island for anyone except an indigenous hunter,” Mr Davies said.

A photographer for The Australian spotted a group of indigenous fishermen in a dinghy near Green Island last week.

While some, including Mr Davies and conservationist Bob Irwin, are pushing for an amendment to the Native Title Act to outlaw fishing and hunting in green zones, it is understood the federal government is working closely with indigenous communities to negotiate moratoriums by consent.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt met three groups of traditional owners and indigenous leaders, including the Turtle and Dugong Taskforce, in Cairns last week.

“They stressed the need for enforcement powers and support to help stop illegal poaching of turtles and dugongs,” a spokesman for Mr Hunt told The Australian.

“They will also help in rapidly working towards a moratorium in taking turtles in the Green Island and Michaelmas Cay areas. The issue is not resolved yet but it is significant progress with deep indigenous assistance.”

He also met Mr Irwin and anti-hunting activist Colin Riddell.

Mr Hunt will meet representatives from Yarrabah, the closest community to Green Island, in coming weeks.

Yarrabah traditional owner Vincent Schreiber said his tribal lore prohibited hunters from taking turtles and dugongs from places such as Green Island, but he acknowledged that some ignored the principle. “These are the outlaws . . . we’re trying to crack down on that,” he said.

“We’re working with different government agencies to try and make it a punishable offence. We’ll come down hard by confiscating boats and cars.”

He said Yarrabah was devising a land and sea management plan, which would recognise the important cultural significance of hunting, as well as environmental requirements.

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