Proceedings of the Third World Fisheries Congress: Feeding the World with Fish in the Next Millenium—The Balance between Production and Environment

Strategic Approach to Indigenous Aquaculture Development in Australia

Chan L. Lee


Aquaculture is a rapidly growing industry in Australia. Over the past decade, its growth has been steady and highly significant. From a low base of about A$136 million in 1988–1999 to a worth of about A$517 million in 1997–1998, the industry is estimated to be worth about A$550 million in 1999–2000. At the Aquaculture Beyond 2000 workshop held 23–24 August 1999 and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry–Australia (AFFA), the Australian aquaculture industry was projected to be achieving annual sales of A$2.5 billion by 2010 (Hussey 1999). This amount would represent a fivefold increase from 1999 production.

Many Australian indigenous communities have expressed strong interest in actively participating in aquaculture, especially in establishing small-scale aquaculture for food supply (Anonymous 1997). Many Aboriginal people possess a natural affinity for fishing and related activities. Culturally, aquaculture is in harmony with the lifestyles of indigenous peoples and well suited for development in the isolated coastal and inland areas where many indigenous communities are located.

Interest in developing aquaculture projects for producing supplementary high-quality protein food (for consumption or sale) and creating employment among indigenous communities has increased markedly in recent years. These communities now have the opportunity to become stakeholders and develop a significant interest in aquaculture by entering into the industry while it is still in an early stage of development. Early entry into the industry as legitimate stakeholders would ensure recognition and a voice in the industry’s development.

However, many social, cultural, and economic factors hinder the participation of indigenous Australians in aquaculture and their related aspirations to employment opportunity and economic advancement. The development of aquaculture to grow food products for consumption or sale requires adequate funding and experienced, trained personnel, all of which are lacking, especially in isolated and remote indigenous communities.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Department of Primary Industries and Energy (now known as AFFAr; Anonymous 1997) estimate that about one-third of Australia’s indigenous population lives in isolated rural areas where there are few prospects for employment or economic advancement. For these people to be involved in and take up the opportunities that may be offered by aquaculture, a strategic approach must be adopted before long-term benefits can be realized.

The AFFA plays a leadership role in fisheries and aquaculture in Australia and has an interest in establishing a national action plan for aquaculture development. In keeping with its role and interest, AFFA has funded a national study of indigenous involvement in aquaculture, a decision that is strongly supported by ATSIC.

In this paper, I discuss the key issues and recommendations provided in the draft report “A national aquaculture development strategy for indigenous communities in Australia,” funded by AFFA, Canberra (Lee and Nel 2001). A final report on the study is scheduled to be published in early 2001.

The indigenous population in Australia is made up of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander people. The 1996 Australian Bureau of Statistics census data indicated that there were 372,100 indigenous people in Australia (approximately 2% of the total population). Table 1 provides a breakdown by state and territory of the numbers of indigenous people living in Australia and the proportion of the population they represent.