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Local News

Fishing Permit Waiver Extended

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A decision on the divisive issue of whether Aboriginal groups will close massive stretches of the Top End coast to fishers or require permits and licences has been delayed for at least six months and possibly longer.

The Northern Land Council representing indigenous traditional owners was locked in talks all Tuesday, but could not reach an agreement with the Northern Territory government and fishing industry groups on how to apply the ownership of marine waters.

The conflict goes back a decade to the High Court's landmark 2008 Blue Mud Bay ruling that where Aboriginal people owned land, they also could claim ownership of fishing rights and access to tidal waters overlying that land.

The NLC announced late on Tuesday it had agreed to waive permits for fishers until the end of next June and possibly to June 2020, meaning recreational anglers can continue fishing in Aboriginal waters.

The High Court decision affected more than 80 per cent, or 6000km, of the NT's coastline, with the idea of restrictions on where people can go fishing hugely controversial given it is a key part of the lifestyle of Territorians.

Commercial crabbers and barramundi fishers with government licences would have to renegotiate with the NLC, which is understood to have previously demanded control over most of those and threatened to cut off access to the waters.

Indigenous people want to control access and be involved in fisheries management and the fishing industry, with the hope it will bring business and employment to remote communities.

Department of Primary Industries fisheries executive director Ian Curnow says if and when a permit system is introduced, it would not affect the majority of recreational fishers.

However, it would adversely affect charter operators in certain areas, such as the popular Roper and Finniss rivers.

Primary Industry and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Vowles has offered the NLC $10 million for a voluntary buyback of fishing licences so the money could be used for sea ranger groups and to support indigenous involvement in the industry.

Interim NLC chief Rick Fletcher says the offer has been accepted but negotiations are continuing to ensure Aboriginal peoples' rights are respected and they benefit.