‘What’s healthier than fish?’: The Indigenous fisherman replacing junk food with fresh barra

‘What’s healthier than fish?’: The Indigenous fisherman replacing junk food with fresh barra

Nutritious and affordable food is hard to come by in the remote community of Maningrida in West Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

Key points:

  • Local fishers are helping to improve food security and health outcomes in their remote Arnhem Land community
  • The business provides jobs in Maningrida, where the unemployment rate is 25 per cent
  • It is the only Indigenous barramundi business in the Northern Territory

Now, a group of local fishers are building a seafood enterprise to provide the town with fresh, cheap fish and much-needed jobs.

“We love it and we like standing in the water and walking on the beach,” Maningrida fisherman Randall Darcy said.

Mr Darcy is part of one of the few Indigenous-owned fishing companies in the Territory, Maningrida Wild Foods.

Workers are filleting fish in the processing room in Maningrida.

The venture catches and processes fish locally, and its operations provide much-needed jobs.(ABC Landline: Jon Daly)

A win for remote food security

Maningrida, on the Arafura Sea, is home to about 2,300 people.

It is 500 kilometres east of Darwin and most supplies, including fresh food, come by barge.

The high transport costs make food expensive.

Maningrida Wild Foods is part of Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation’s (BAC) enterprise development program, which is fostering social enterprise to tackle the community’s issues.

BAC enterprise development officer Rowan McIntyre said improving food security was the main objective for the business.

Mr McIntyre said the local fish markets were held weekly at the supermarket and offered one of the cheapest sources of protein in town.

“We do have a big focus on healthy eating and providing a local source of protein, and what’s healthier than fish?” he said.

A Maningrida fisher is holding up a barramundi on the boat.

The crew at Maningrida Wild Foods is the only Indigenous group to operate a commercial barramundi licence.(ABC Landline: Jon Daly)

Locals receive much-needed jobs

This year, the crew made its first commercial catch of wild barramundi.

Maningrida Wild Foods leases a portion of a commercial licence and is the only Indigenous group to operate a barramundi business in the Territory.

“We hope to provide employment, a fresh source of food, and it’s something that gets people back out on country,” Mr McIntyre said.

Maningrida has an official unemployment rate of 25 per cent.

The barramundi operation provides 18 locals with much-needed jobs.

Rowan McIntyre is standing in front of the fish markets in Maningrida.

Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation enterprise development manager Rowan McIntyre said food security was a big focus for the fishing enterprise.(ABC Landline: Jon Daly)

It builds on Maningrida Wild Foods’ existing commercial mud crabbing operations and several Aboriginal coastal fishing licences, which allow it to catch and sell certain fish species.

The barramundi licence was leased after local fishers grew frustrated with not being allowed to catch the valuable fish through the Aboriginal coastal fishing licences.

The NT Government and Northern Land Council have been negotiating commercial access since the 2008 High Court decision recognising Aboriginal rights to intertidal waters.

Mr McIntyre said local fishers wanted better access to their traditional waters so they could provide more benefit to the community.

People are buying fish from a market, and there's a sign out the front.

Maningrida fisherman Randall Darcy said seafood was seen as medicine by the saltwater people.(ABC Landline: Jon Daly)

Fresh fish the ‘best medicine’

The community of Maningrida also grapples with poor public health.

Poor nutrition has links to poor health outcomes and a higher burden of disease in Aboriginal communities, according to research from the Darwin-based Menzies School of Health Research.

Seafood is seen as healthy “bush tucker” by the saltwater tribes of Maningrida.

“It’s good medicine, it makes you good and healthy, and you fly around healthy and stay young,” Mr Darcy said, sitting cross-legged in white sand and having his fill of a cooked mullet not long from the net.

Traditional owner Don Wilton started the seafood enterprise in 2016 by catching and selling fish from his coastal outstation.

He said he had to act after he saw the negative effect junk food was having on his community.

Family liaison officer Felicity Hayes is sitting at the Maningrida creche with children in the background.

Family liaison officer Felicity Hayes said junk food was harming her community.(ABC Landline: Jon Daly)

“They [have] already been affected by greasy food, so we’re trying to sell those fish to the community and get the oil away from the body.”

At the Maningrida creche, the Families and First Teachers’ community program is cooking locally sourced fish to teach mothers healthy eating habits.

Families and First Teachers liaison officer Felicity Hayes said it was helping to make the community a better place.

Maningrida Wild Foods also sells fish to the neighbouring community of Ramingining and there are plans to supply other Arnhem Land communities.

“Lots of other communities are asking fisheries boys to go out and feed them, and to give what we catch in this region, in this saltwater,” Mr Darcy said.

“I am hoping the program will go on and on, and we want it that way and it’s going to stay that way.”

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12: 30pm on Sunday, or on iview.

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