Indigenous Australians have been involved in fishing, and using seafood for a range of purposes, for many thousands of years. The Indigenous fishing sector is acknowledged as one of the three major sectors, along with the commercial and recreational sectors, but due to a range of factors there had been, in effect, a market failure in respect to RD&E for this primary sector of the broader Industry. In 2010, during the development of the first National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy (NFARDES), the challenges and constraints confronting RD&E in Indigenous fisheries were identified; i.e. geographical and cultural diversity, which makes it difficult to coordinate planning and investment, a lack of comprehensive information, and limited engagement with Indigenous communities.
Although there was some level of engagement going back to the late 1990s through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), this ceased when ATSIC was abolished in 2005, leaving a void in this space. As part of addressing this, the FRDC sought to establish a group to provide advice on a range of matters dealing with engagement on aspects of fishing and seafood focussed RD&E with Indigenous Australians. Over a short period this group developed into the FRDC Indigenous Reference Group (IRG).
The scope of the IRG is to ensure that fishing and seafood industry focused RD&E assists in delivering improved economic, environmental and social benefits to Australia’s Indigenous people. The IRG is expertise based, advisory in nature, and makes recommendations to FRDC on strategic issues relevant to Indigenous RD&E in the fishing and seafood industry. Importantly, members of the IRG strongly acknowledge that they do not speak on behalf of all Indigenous Australian people and communities, but with the endorsement of the Forum group they feel they can provide high level strategic input and advice based on the 11 key RD&E Principles developed by the group.
The IRG has been acknowledged at a range of forums as being able to provide advice and expertise in developing better engagement processes and to improve extension of RD&E outputs and outcomes to Indigenous Australians. These included the current Federal Government, the National Priorities Forum (NPF), Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy Governance Committee (FARDE - SGC), and the FRDC Board.
With the support of the FRDC and the Department of Agriculture (Dept Ag), the IRG has overseen two National Indigenous Fisheries RD&E Forums which provided high level outputs to help guide RD&E investment in the Indigenous sector. These include the Eleven Key RD&E Principles (11 Principles) for Indigenous RD&E in the fishing and seafood industry, and five RD&E Priorities for Fishing and Aquaculture’ (RD&E Priorities document). These forums and documents helped guide Indigenous focussed RD&E and provided the IRG and FRDC clear, high level guidance. Key outcomes have been:
• Specific national Indigenous RD&E priority setting for the FRDC 2013/14 and 2014/2015 Annual Competitive Round Call
• Formal recommendations to FRDC on project proposals and the Indigenous scholarship;
o The IRG formally assessed over 60 projects
o The number of Indigenous focussed projects increased from around 0 to 2 per year, prior to the formation of the IRG, to around 12 per year since the IRG came into being. Over the project's life more RD&E proposals addressed Indigenous needs. Much of this inclusion in broader projects came about through conversations between researchers and IRG members, direction by the FRDC, through specific advice provided via submissions, input to various broader strategic documents, or via IRG feedback through the FRDC EOI open round process.
• Attendance at a large range of whole of industry forums such as the NPF, FARDE - SGC, Common Language Group (CLG), Seafood Directions 2013, Research Providers Network (RPN), Fisheries Research Advisory Bodies (FRABs), invited guests at the 10 IRG meetings and through input to key regional and national documents and processes to highlight the need to include the Indigenous sector. A key aim of these interactions was to expand links, to share information and improve two way understanding and capacity
The program faced a number of challenges in delivering on its scope. The market failure identified for this sector was a key issue, as most agencies, researchers and other stakeholders had limited capacity to interact and engage with the Indigenous sectors. As such, most had little understanding of the opportunities and benefits that could be achieved through this program. In addition, the pool of Indigenous people who have the expertise and/or wish to be involved in such a process is limited. The need for two way capacity building and improved understanding was a critical component of this project.
Notwithstanding these challenges, there has been significant progress in broadening stakeholders’ understanding of the Indigenous sector (if not always well understood) and its place in the broader fishing and seafood industry. The IRG has received positive feedback and strong support from most sectors and has proven to be an invaluable link for the FRDC, and allowed greater engagement and input from an Indigenous perspective with many aspects of the Australian fishing and seafood industry; much broader than just the RD&E process. This has involved extensive input as part of developing high level national policy, strategies and reports, and attendance and presenting at a range of forums.
Prior to the IRG there was no real opportunity, or vehicle, to identify potential participants for meetings, or to provide a coordinated response to issues and high level strategic development. This project has been exceptionally successful and the identified gap in articulating priorities for the Indigenous sector and a means for formal engagement at a national level has started to be addressed. In a short period (3 years) an area of the broader fishing and seafood RD&E landscape that was vacant, now has a means to work towards addressing the identified gaps.
As a result of this progress, but acknowledging the challenges encountered delivering on key national RD&E priorities and the need to maintain momentum, the FRDC Board in December 2013 supported the establishment of an Indigenous RD&E Subprogram (IRDES) and requested that the IRG manage the Subprogram.
This success has only been possible through the hard work and commitment of the Indigenous women and men who have volunteered their time and knowledge to this process. The coordination of this group could not have taken place if FRDC and Dep Ag had not provided support, linkages and funding to resource and assist the IRG to fulfil its role.