Joint venture a first for Aboriginal participation in SA tuna industry

3 Jul 2021

Check out the recent ABC Landline story featured on Sunday, 4 July and ABC News story published Thursday, 8 July, as part of National NAIDOC Week 2021.

In an industry first, a new commercial tuna fishing joint venture on the Far West Coast of South Australia is providing Traditional Owners the opportunity to be involved in shaping the future of the Southern Bluefin Tuna industry.

Wanna Mar, meaning ‘sea food’ in Mirning and Wirangu languages, is a 100% Indigenous-owned commercial fishing venture which has acquired 25 tonnes of Southern Bluefin Tuna quota for traditional waters in the region.

Wanna Mar is backed by Far West Coast Investments, an organisation representing the interests of native title holders in the region with strong connections to saltwater country.

Image of Paul Vandenbergh from Wanna Mar
Paul Vandenbergh from Wanna Mar

To pursue its economic vision, Wanna Mar entered into a joint venture with Stehr Group, one of Australia’s largest Southern Bluefin Tuna producers, to catch, grow-out and market the product to global markets.

Wanna Mar secured $3.5 million in funding from the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) to launch its half of the venture.

Wanna Mar Stehr Group Director and Traditional Owner Paul Vandenbergh said being partners in a commercial fishing venture on sea country offered incredible opportunities for Aboriginal people.

“For years, Aboriginal people have stood on the shore and watched the tuna fishing boats pass through our country and fish in our waters,” he said. “We are proud to be partnering with Stehr Group to change that.

“Southern Bluefin Tuna is a $130m dollar industry that is undergoing a phase of renewal and we see Wanna Mar Stehr playing a leading role in transforming the sector by not only participating in the industry but influencing the way things are done.

“We have been sustainably harvesting fish from our sea country for thousands of generations, and the Wanna Mar Stehr brand will continue to tell our story of sustainability while also exploring new high-value markets.

“This will naturally lead to economic benefits and employment in all aspects of the industry for our people.”

Stehr Group Managing Director, Marcus Stehr said the group welcomed the opportunity to work with Wanna Mar and the local Indigenous community.

“The Stehr Group recognises the right of Traditional Owners to fish in their own waters and take their rightful place in the industry, and we are proud to be supporting them to make this happen,” he said.

“Together we are looking forward to further developing our business in the future.”

ILSC Group CEO Joe Morrison said it was vital for Indigenous Australians to take equity in the seafood sector in order to be agents of their own economic, social, environmental and cultural success.

“Strategic investment in the Wanna Mar Stehr joint venture is enabling Indigenous Australians to take their rightful place in the fishing industry, and to be front and centre in growing the Southern Bluefin Tuna sector,” he said.

“The economic and cultural aspirations of Traditional Owners, and their strategic approach to secure a partner of Stehr Group’s standing is tremendous and something the ILSC is proud to invest in.”

Mr Vandenbergh said despite interruptions to the first season due to COVID-19, there were many positive signs for the partnership.

With harvesting currently taking place and all stocks sold, the majority of the catch is headed to Japan and Korea where prices are increasing.

He said future Wanna Mar Stehr profits from the venture would be used to address disadvantage and strengthen local Aboriginal communities, including through education and sports scholarships. He said he hoped the joint venture would pave the way for other Indigenous groups to participate in the seafood industry.

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