Right tribe, wrong net

THEY were from the right tribe but they were using the wrong net.

It's alleged Elwyn James Mann and Leighton Cameron Little were breaking the law when they used a “commercial-size” net to fish Moores Creek, near the Fitzroy River.

The pair yesterday told Rockhampton Magistrates Court they were catching a feed for their families on January 5 when Department of Fisheries officers confronted them.

The gill net - 80m long with a mesh size of 100mm - was owned by Mann whose heritage was with the Darumbal Tribe, which has land rights across the Rockhampton area.

They have been charged with illegally using commercial fishing equipment in Moores Creek and for taking fish caught with the equipment.

Little and Mann claim they were both of the belief that the Darumbal People had native title of the area and could fish there.

Mann said he'd owned the net for about three or four years and at least two other members of his family had a similar net.

A gill net works by having fish try to swim through the mesh squares, which are not wide enough to fit the thickest part of their body.

If the fish tries to retreat their gills are caught in the net.

Mann said even as a little boy his dad would take him fishing and teach him to use a net.

Whenever he caught more fish than he could eat, Mann said he shared them with family or bartered them for other food.

But he said he never sold the fish.

Little, who is from the Waka Waka Tribe and a cousin of Mann's, told the court he'd moved to the Rockhampton area about one year ago and had fished Moores Creek “a couple of times”.

He described his family as “hunters and gatherers”, saying he was taught by his father as a youngster to catch fish using cast nets, dragging, crabbing and other hunting.

“We thought we had the right to be there,” he said.

“I always thought we had the right to do it.”

Before Little and Mann were stopped by Department of Fishery officers they had caught about five fish.

Little said they ate them, sharing the catch evenly.

The prosecutor for the Department of Fisheries, Helen Bowskill said Mann and Little had no right to use the industrial-sized net, measuring more than 80m long with a mesh size of 100mm.

She said there was a defence for Aboriginal people to fish in native title land but they could only use “prescribed fishing apparatus”.

Ms Bowskill argued that the size of the net and the way it was used were not typical practice of the Darumbal People.

Defence lawyer Maree Willey said fishing with nets was part of Little and Mann's culture and at no point had they sold fish commercially.

“They caught five or six fish between them to feed themselves and their immediate family,” Ms Willey said.

She said the pair thought they were entitled to use the net.

The matter was adjourned for Magistrate John McGrath to make a decision.

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