High Court Decision

On 30 July the High Court of Australia made the following decision on the matter known as the Blue Mud Bay Case.

The High Court has partially accepted the Northern Territory Government’s appeal in the Blue Mud Bay fishing case by confirming the NT Fisheries Act applies to all waters. This enables the Northern Territory Government to manage and regulate fishing in coastal regions.

As a result of the High Court decision, current interim arrangements, apart from the Tiwi Islands and the upper Finniss River, provide entry to waters on Aboriginal lands until December 2016.

The Tiwi Land Council, who previously extended the interim arrangements until May 2010, has decided not to extend the interim arrangements with all recreational fishers now required to apply for a permit to enter Tiwi waters.

Commercial fishers are now required to enter into formal agreements with the Tiwi Land Council in order to operate in Tiwi waters.

Following extensive negotiations Traditional Owners responsible for inter-tidal waters 13.5 kilometres upstream of the mouth of the Finniss River decided not to provide access for recreational and commercial fishers (including Fishing Tour Operators)

The High Court decision means that:

For recreational fishing
All rules under the Fisheries Act NT apply and will be enforced by the NT Police.

The temporary fishing permits granted by the Northern Land Council will remain in place until December 2016 to enable access to continue and allow for long-term agreements to be negotiated. The temporary fishing permits granted by the Anindilyakwa Land Council will remain in place while “good faith” negotiations are continuing.

For entry to waters overlying Aboriginal land on Melville (NTP1644) and Bathurst (NTP 1640 & NTP 3042) Islands (Tiwi Islands) recreational fishers require fishing permits which can be obtained through the Tiwi Land Council on 08 8981 4898.

For commercial fishing and fishing tour operators
All rules under the NT Fisheries Act apply and will be enforced by the NT Police.

The temporary fishing permits granted by the Northern Land Council will remain in place until December 2016 to enable access to continue and allow for long-term arrangements to be negotiated. The temporary fishing permits granted by the Anindilyakwa Land Council will remain in place while “good faith” negotiations are continuing.

For entry to waters overlying Aboriginal land on Melville (NTP1644) and Bathurst (NTP 1640 & NTP 3042) Islands (Tiwi Islands) commercial fishers are required to enter into negotiated agreements with the Tiwi Land Council who may be contacted on 08 8981 4898. 

Permits are required to enter and remain on Aboriginal land, including waters overlying Aboriginal land. This applies to approximately 80% of the Territory coastline and tidal rivers but not Darwin Harbour.

History of Legal Proceedings

30 July 2008 The High Court made the decision on the Blue Mud Bay case.
4 December 2007 The High Court heard the NT Government’s appeal regarding the Federal Court’s decision on the Blue Mud Bay fishing case.
30 March 2007 The NT Government filed an application for special leave to appeal to the High Court.
16 March 2007 The Federal Court declined to stay or suspend its decision pending a High Court appeal since, having declared the law, it had no power to order that the law was not in effect.
2 March 2007 The Federal Court held on appeal that the licensing system under the Fisheries Act (NT) did not apply regarding commercial fishing in tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land (i.e. freehold) – being the intertidal zone and tidal rivers.

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