Alex's Column 4/3/21

On the face of it, the introduction this week of a free registration process to access fishing spots across Aboriginal sea country until 31 December 2022 doesn’t sound all that bad.

After all, ever since the Blue Mud Bay High Court decision, the prospect of losing vast recreational fishing waters, or at best having to pay permit fees, have been very real.

Northern Land Council CEO, Marion Scrymgour, said: “This means that to the end of 2022 recreational fishers in the NT will enjoy permit-free fishing access across more than 3000km of Aboriginal sea country.

“The Northern Land Council has statutory responsibilities to assist Traditional Owners to manage their country and we take those responsibilities very seriously.

“The NLC has been talking to and sharing information with all the other stakeholders: the NT Government, AFANT, the Seafood Council and the Guided Fishing Tour operators but at all times we have put the interests of Traditional Owners first,” the NLC CEO said.

There’s been a great deal of media emanating from this new registration process; I even heard it on the news on the Sunshine Coast when I was down there early this week.

AFANT has rightly had much to say about it, particularly as the Traditional Owners of 8km of the lower Finniss River, and the Little Finniss and coastal creeks to the west, have now closed these areas to fishing.

However, AFANT’s criticisms are not aimed at the NLC; it’s the NT Government which AFANT blames for losing access to this most-significant stretch of the Finniss River and those great barra fishing spots to the west in Fog Bay.

AFANT President, Warren De With, said: “The Government has done nothing to get agreements in place for the Finniss River.”

“AFANT got an extension from the NLC for two months and asked the Chief Minister to urgently meet with us because we only had two months to get it right and to have meaningful negotiations with the Finniss TOs, but absolutely nothing happened.

“Back when the senior hierarchy of the Fisheries Department was undertaking the negotiations – and doing a really good job for recreational fishermen – the Chief Minister took that responsibility away from Fisheries and gave it to the Chief Minister’s Department, supposedly to elevate it.

“It now dates back to 2016 when this Government came to power, and that’s when it all just stalled; the NT Government just didn’t bother to get agreements in place,” the AFANT President said.

“Unfortunately, the then Minister for Fisheries didn’t have carriage of this.

“If the Fisheries Department still had carriage of the negotiations over the Finniss, Little Finniss, Fog Bay coastal creeks, and also the Mini Mini system, there would have been much more chance of agreements being reached.

“Basically, the lower-Finniss people have not signed up to the permit system because they didn’t want to wait another two years of Government procrastination,” Warren said.

It’s interesting that, while these areas are now closed to recreational fishing, commercial fishermen have been given an extension until 31 December 2022, and fishing tour operators’ ability to fish these areas has been extended to 1 July this year.

“FTOs will be able to fish the Fog Bay coastline, which we support,” the AFANT President said.

“Ironically, however, whereas recreational fishermen have championed and done so much good for the sustainability of stocks, they’re now excluded from areas where commercial fishermen can go in and net the hell out of them.

“People should be venting their anger at the NT Government; since they were elected in 2016, not one agreement has been signed.

“What needs to happen is for potential agreements to be put on the table immediately so that TOs can see what they will get, how they can benefit, and make decisions about the management of their own sea country and gain fair economic benefit,” Warren said.

For more information and to apply for a Blue Mud Bay Registration permit, visit the NLC website: https://www.nlc.org.au/apply-for-permit.

There’s also plenty to read and listen to on the AFANT website and AFANT Facebook.

By the way, the big Top End rivers are all still heavy in flood, and a great Runoff is predicted… if you haven’t worked that one out already.


Richard Parry found a big one at Shady Camp… 121cm to be precise.


Rachel Hurt did the near impossible when she caught a 104cm barra in Darwin Harbour.