Boats to burn
: Bajo fishing activity in the Australian fishing zone

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Indonesia and Australia, traditional Indonesian fishermen are permitted access to fish in a designated area inside the 200 nm Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ). However, crew and vessels are regularly apprehended for illegal fishing activity outside the permitted areas and after prosecution in Australian courts, their boats and equipment are destroyed and the fishermen repatriated to Indonesia. This thesis is an ethnographic study of one group of Indonesian maritime people who operate in the AFZ. It concerns Bajo people who originate from villages in the Tukang Besi Islands, Southeast Sulawesi. The study explores the social, cultural, economic and historic conditions which underpin Bajo sailing and fishing voyages in the AFZ. It also examines issues concerning Australian maritime expansion and Australian government policies, treatment and understanding of Bajo fishing. The thesis considers the concept of “traditional” fishing regulating access to the MOU area based on use of unchanging technology, and consequences arising from adherence to such a view of “traditional”; the effect of Australian maritime expansion on Bajo fishing activity; the effectiveness of policy in providing for fishing rights and stopping illegal activity, and why Bajo continue to fish in the AFZ despite a range of ongoing restrictions on their activity.

    It is concluded that because of a lack of ethnographic insight and poor understanding of the issues there are serious inconsistencies in Australian policies and for the most part, they have been ineffective. The concept of “traditional” fishing, which regulates access to the 1974 MOU area for Indonesian fishermen is problematic, it ignores cultural dynamism and does not reflect the reality of Bajo fishing. Recent changes in Bajo fishing activity are in direct response to Australian maritime expansion and other broader local and global processes of influence. Continuing illegal Bajo fishing activity occurs as a direct result of the ineffectiveness of the 1974 MOU, as well as economic consequences arising from the apprehension and destruction of boats. Other historical, social-cultural and economic reasons also motivate continued Bajo fishing activity in the AFZ. Alternative approaches to managing a traditional Indonesian fishery in the AFZ are required and a more anthropologically informed approach should be taken. A new agreement should afford specific access rights to Bajo fishermen who have fished in the north Australian region since the early decades of this century.
    Date of AwardNov 1999
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorIan Walters (Supervisor)

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