From humble beginnings, working out of a single office in the Northern Land Council building and then at Berrimah Farm, thanks to the Northern Territory Government, the ASC now has 10 staff working under three key business units.
Since then, the ASC has invested in the development of a 10-year strategic plan, two-year business operational plan, purchased the Darwin Shipstores building, acquired the Darwin Shipstores retail shop and developed due diligence guidelines for investment decision-making.
The founding of the Aboriginal Sea Company follows the historic 2008 Blue Mud Bay settlement – more than 85 percent of the Territory coastline is owned by Indigenous people and a further 10 percent is subject to claim.
Governed by a board made up of equal representation from the three land councils with traditional ownership of sea country – Northern Land Council, Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council – it is envisaged that the ASC will empower Aboriginal Traditional Owners to be actively engaged in the fishing and aquaculture industries.
The ASC will use the office space above the Shipstores retail shop as a new base of operations and will feature a boardroom with state-of-the-art video conferencing capabilities. The building includes the Northern Territory Seafood Council as existing tenants and allocates enough space for ASC future growth.
The Darwin Shipstores retail shop will employ up to four Territorians and provide an opportunity for Indigenous traineeships.
It is good for the economy – and it is good for Traditional Owners. The ASC is now the single largest holder of mud crab licences in the Northern Territory following the acquisition of 10 licences, but this is only the beginning as the ASC will continue to look at opportunities in fishing tourism, aquaculture and other commercial fishing investments.
The ASC undertook a thorough due diligence process before making the decision to invest in the commercial mud crab fishery and will take a practical and staged approach over the coming years to help Aboriginal engagement in the seafood industry.
The ASC has leased all 10 of the mud crab licences back to an experienced industry operator, who has been teaching ASC staff in preparation to take over the business at the end of 2023.
The ASC would also like to work with commercial operators willing to act as mentors and provide on-the-job training to the ASC team to learn the day-to-day operations of the business.
The ASC successfully acquired $1.9 million from the Cooperative Research Centre North Australia over three years to expand the Fishing Mentor Program to help get people ready to work ASC investments.
Traditional owner involvement in seafood and maritime enterprise brings an understanding that has been developed over millennia with a strong focus of protecting the environment and sustainability.
Aboriginal Sea Company chair Calvin Deveraux says: “The purchase of the Darwin Shipstore’s building through funding from the Aboriginal Benefits Account is an important milestone for the Aboriginal Sea Company in self-determination.
“We want to have an office of our own, where we are not having to pay rent to someone else, and this will create an enduring legacy for our young people by giving them something to take over.
“The board has already instructed our Chief Executive Officer to also invest in immediate capital improvements, which allows for future growth of the Aboriginal Sea Company.”
He says the acquisition of 10 mud crab licences is evidence that the ASC board has made progress to implement its vision to support the growth of First Nations-controlled marine and seafood-related businesses
“Hopefully, people will be buying mud crabs from an Aboriginal-owned business for Christmas in 2023.
“One of the things the ASC will focus on is increasing Aboriginal-led training, performance and mentoring capacity in the regions – that’s so we have more locally relevant and practical training delivery to give our people the opportunity to work in the seafood industry.”
Aboriginal Sea Company CEO Bo Carne says: “The Aboriginal Sea Company staff are really looking forward to having a place of our own and the location is very advantageous to important working partners, such as the NT Seafood Council, seafood industry and fleet of vessels.
“The unique location on the Fishermen’s Wharf has future development prospects, which gives the property a capital growth profile that can be used for future collateral in achieving the Aboriginal Sea Company revenue and profit goals.”
He says the company will invest in fishing licences and businesses that provide good employment opportunities for Aboriginal Territorians.
“Then we will use the Aboriginal Fishing Mentor Program to get people ready to work under the investments.
“This will provide a mechanism for Aboriginal small-scale businesses developing across the NT.”