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Australia How diving for abalone could have landed this great-grandfather in prison

23:30  11 july  2018
23:30  11 july  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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Kevin Mason has been gathering seafood for his family for decades, but the practice recently landed the 71-year-old in trouble with the law. It's deeply angered Indigenous elders who want better legal protection for their community.

Kevin Mason learned to hunt and gather seafood from his parents and grandparents.© ABC News Kevin Mason learned to hunt and gather seafood from his parents and grandparents. The ocean is Kevin Mason's "medicine". It heals him, clears his mind and keeps this quiet, 71-year-old Aboriginal elder fit.

He often pulls on a hooded wetsuit and dives deep into the blue on cold winter days, gathering seafood for his family at Narooma, on the far south coast of New South Wales.

"I love the ocean. Fresh water, salt water, I love it. It's a place where you can hunt and gather quite easily for our mob, we're sea people," he said.

But hunting and gathering from the ocean — a practice he learned decades ago from his parents and grandparents — landed the great-grandfather in trouble with the law.

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A truly in depth instruction on how to dive for Abalone , spearfish, or just learn to snorkel for fun and recreation. Don't miss this ! The ocean’s waves come in and out with great force and sweep the diver where ever it decides to, which can include putting his or her head up against a rock!

How diving for abalone could have landed this great - grandfather in prison http Tweet with a location. You can add location information to your Tweets, such as your city or precise location, from the web and via third-party applications.

"I'm just feeding my mob, that's all I'm doing, I share my catch with my family and people around me. They put a stop to that sort of thing," he said.

Mr Mason's case, which could have landed him in gaol, has deeply angered Indigenous elders who want better legal protection for their community.

He was accused by Fisheries NSW of taking too many abalone and periwinkles in 2015, in breach of state regulations.

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In NSW, bag limits give Aboriginal divers the right to take 10 abalone per catch, but fisheries officials alleged Mr Mason was found with 28 abalone.

He was charged with three offences, and if found guilty he faced a prison sentence.

Mr Mason was due to begin fighting his case in court this week, but two days before his hearing the Crown dropped the charges.

"The prosecutor considered the material and Mr Mason's representations, and formed the view that the prosecution should be discontinued," a spokeswoman for the Department of Primary Industries said.

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How diving for abalone could have landed this great - grandfather in prison . http Tweet with a location. You can add location information to your Tweets, such as your city or precise location, from the web and via third-party applications.

Nguyen, who was an experienced diver , is the first person to die while diving for abalone in Mendocino County this year. In 2016, at least four divers died while searching for the delicacy.

For Mr Mason, who comes from a long line of Indigenous divers and hunters, this has been "another battle, another hurdle".

He said he had regularly been in trouble with fisheries officers over the years.

"The stress of being prosecuted for what I've done nearly all my life, is mind-boggling," Mr Mason told the ABC.

'Native title right' to fish

Mr Mason's case, which has been watched closely by the Aboriginal community on the south coast, is one of dozens that have upset the Yuin people.

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Abalone is a common name for any of a group of small to very large sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs in the family Haliotidae. Other common names are ear shells, sea ears, and muttonfish or muttonshells in Australia, ormer in Great Britain, perlemoen in South Africa, and pāua in New Zealand.

Where Can I Dive for Abalone ? Divers are legally allowed to take abalone from any point north of the center of the mouth of the San Francisco Bay. Any diving south of this line is illegal. How Many Abalone Can I Take?

They are the traditional owners of that region of NSW, and have lodged a native title claim over their land and waters.

Australia's first Indigenous special counsel, Tony McAvoy, represented Mr Mason in his matter, as well as two other local men charged with similar offences.

He said there was a conflict between state fishing laws and federal native title legislation.

"The problem arises that compliance officers on the south coast of NSW are constantly clashing with Aboriginal people who are exercising their rights, their native title rights," he said.

"Those compliance officers are bound by a system that doesn't assume that those native title rights exist."

He said the Aboriginal community on the south coast was under "immense pressure".

"The tax on individuals and families and the community as a whole is significant," Mr McAvoy said.

"People are doing what that they believe they're entitled to do. They believe it's their inherent right that's passed down from their ancestors, and that they are being persecuted for exercising that right."

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Jacob’s accomplice started diving for abalone , quickly filling half a bag. In Hong Kong, a kilogram of dried abalone can fetch over ,000.) “There’s a special flavor. (His great - grandfather was a farmer in the Hout Bay valley before losing his land during apartheid.)

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This issue has also caught the attention of Oxfam Australia, which analysed NSW crime data to reveal that dozens of Aboriginal people have been jailed for fishing offences in the past decade.

"NSW's crime data shows that since 2010, 85 per cent of the people jailed for fishing offences are Aboriginal," Indigenous policy adviser Paul Cleary said.

"The effect of this on families and communities is devastating, and this is yet another factor contributing to the appalling over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in jail."

Wally Stewart, a Yuin community leader, said his people were known to have "a long relationship to the ocean", and prosecutions for fishing offences had rattled the community.

"The Government's nearly severed two generations of cultural fishermen and our culture down here, and we're saying enough is enough, you're destroying our way of life," Mr Stewart said.

"Our diet has changed, we've got health issues, we've got people sent to jail for something that was natural to us."

The number of Aboriginal people prosecuted for fisheries offences has reduced significantly since 2009, a spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Primary Industries said.

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Abalone is one of the great reasons for diving in California, but not just for the most obvious reason. For how to clean it up nice, see HERE. Cut thin slices to remove all the rest of the skin that is left. Ask about them in a dive shop near where abalone can be found.

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After years of lobbying, the former state Labor government passed legislation in 2009 to allow for greater access to cultural fishing.

Almost a decade later, the laws have never been enacted.

Indigenous fishers are permitted under an interim arrangement to have greater bag and possession limits, the department said.

"Despite extended bag and possession limits, it is important the quantity of the catch is known as it can affect existing and future fish stocks, and how resources are shared between different stakeholders," a spokeswoman said.

"This includes for abalone, which is particularly susceptible to overfishing."

'Abuse' of cultural fishing limits

The commercial abalone industry, which was established in the 1970s across the New South Wales and Victorian coast, has a very different perspective to the Indigenous community.

It argues that illegal recreational or cultural fishing must be policed because it fuels a black market, which undercuts abalone operators' business.

"The big failure of the cultural fishing policy is that I don't believe it's being used for cultural reasons, the abalone is being caught in huge quantities, in commercial quantities," said John Smythe, from peak industry group the Abalone Association of NSW.

He said there had been frequent cuts to commercial catch quotas during the past decade to protect the species from over-fishing, and the rules must apply to everyone.

"There's got to be controls on what we can take, we're controlled with our size limits, and our quotas, and our bag limits," Mr Smythe said.

"To just open slather on any species is doomed for disaster.

"We're seeing that improvement [in abalone numbers] and it certainly can be shared with recreational and Indigenous fishers, but it's got to be under fair management."

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