Torres Strait Islanders win fishing rights

Wednesday, February 7, 2001


BRISBANE — Traditional dances were performed outside Cairns District Court on January 31 to celebrate the acquittal of two Torres Strait Islanders charged with robbing a group of commercial fishers.

Benjamin Ali Nona and George Gesa allegedly threatened the fishers and stole their catch of coral trout, worth $600, near Murray Island three years ago. The two men argued they were protecting their traditional fishing grounds and were entitled by customary law to take the fish.

Nona's uncle, Horace Nona, said the jury decision had respected the values and boundaries of Torres Strait peoples' traditional sea laws and it was now up to island communities to protect them.

"The court has proved us innocent in this so we want to set up a fisheries summit to manage our traditional resources in the future and fully document out sea laws", he said.

The Democratic Socialist candidate for South Brisbane, Adam Baker, welcomed the court decision, stating that it "reflected the indigenous rights to land and sea which ought to be included in a radically changed Queensland native title act".