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Aboriginal Sea Company

Traditional Owners are rapidly fulfilling a grand vision to have much greater control over the management of commercial fisheries and their coastal waters.

The Aboriginal Sea Company has made a series of major investments since being set up by Northern, Tiwi and Anindilyakwa land councils two years ago.

“The vision is to ensure Aboriginal people own access rights to the resources as well as the coastal waters and use this to have a greater say in how these resources are managed,” says company chair Calvin Deveraux.

A 10-year strategic plan maps out the road to Aboriginal ownership of commercial fishing operations, joint ventures with established operators, training of Indigenous workers and job creation.

The Aboriginal Sea Company recognised that it lacked experience in seafood industry investment decision-making, so partnered with Atlantis Fisheries Consultancy Group.

A stringent due diligence process and investment monitoring system was developed.

Chief executive Bo Carne says: “Atlantis has been a good friend of the ASC through the provision of clear advice, which has helped us make informed decisions.”

Over the past 18 months, the ASC has acquired 11 commercial mud crab licences, a three-unit allocation barramundi licence and two coastal line licences, which includes a black jewfish quota of about five tonnes.

To ensure the mud crab licences would bring maximum return, three staff members learnt business operations from one of the NT’s leading mud crab business operators before eventually buying the business, which has now become fully owned and operated.

ASC is now the largest owner of crab licences in the NT with about 22 percent.

It has a contract with the Territory Government to use inmates to make the company’s commercial crab pots, which allows for potential skills to be used when the prisoners are ready to go back to their communities and straight into work.

The initiative is part of ASC’s commitment to deliver social programs.

The ASC has bought the Darwin Shipstores building at Fishermen’s Wharf and has set up an office on
the first floor, shared with the NT Seafood Council.

The Darwin Shipstores ship chandlery was also acquired, which will effectively sell many products to other ASC-owned businesses and other seafood industry businesses.

To support the ASC licences, the Darwin Fish Market (Retail and Wholesale) was acquired in December 2023.

This has essentially helped the ASC to close the loop in seafood industry business operations – licence right-holder, fishing industry business operator and seafood sales business owner-operator.

The Darwin Fish Market sells only the best quality Australian seafood, which supports local fishers across the NT and Australia.

“We did a short trip to New Zealand and looked at how Maori are so well advanced in using their ownership of licence rights to run seafood businesses and used some of these learnings to make decisions about our businesses,” says ASC board member and Tiwi islander Andrew Bush.

The ASC has also entered into discussions with Austral Fisheries to gain fishing business operational advice and potential business opportunities.

In February 2023, the ASC negotiated the temporary transfer of the Aboriginal Fishing Mentor Program from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

The ASC used this to leverage additional funding from the Cooperative Research Centre North Australia to expand the mentor program over three years.

The program is a vital link between the ASC investments and Aboriginal people across the NT wanting to enter the fishing industry.


The ASC board wants to see Aboriginal people in remote areas given the opportunity to run their own fishing businesses, small and large, with the support of ASC-owned licences and seafood businesses.

The mentor program works with Aboriginal people to build their capacity in seafood industry operations, such as fishing, cold storage and processing of seafood.

This will help people in remote areas be ready to run their own seafood operations under the ASC investments, ensuring that they can move away from reliance on welfare.

“We know this is a long-term commitment, but if we don’t invest in this work now, it will always be someone else working on our Country instead of ourselves,” says ASC board member and Maningrida leader Julius Kernan.

And Mr Deveraux says: “Many Aboriginal people don’t have the capital to get started in businesses in the seafood industry, but they do have fresh seafood resources at their front door. We need to find the right people and build their capabilities to operate self-sustaining businesses to support local autonomy.”

Anindilyakwa ASC board member Mark Hewitt says 2024 will be a year of expansion across aquaculture and possibly fishing tourism businesses.

“There is a lot to consider in regard to aquaculture and plenty of opportunities for sustainable businesses in some of our regional areas, such as some of the work underway on Groote Eylandt,” he says.

The ASC 2023 efforts were recognised by receiving the 2024 Telstra Best of Business Awards – Northern Territory Finalist Award in Building Communities and Indigenous Excellence categories.
Another social program planned for this year is to work with Durra Larrakia Daraniki on a youth diversion program, which would be a perfect alignment with ASC businesses and fishing operational requirements.

In September 2024, the ASC will co-host the Australian Sea Country Conference in Darwin with the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance.

This is expected to include Aboriginal people across the country and relevant agencies responsible for sea management and conservation.