Derek Walker Australia

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"Ngarrindjeri country is our very DNA, it’s our connection to the land and sea, and with it comes great pride. So, it’s incredibly important to manage the fishery sustainably."

Two hours southeast of Adelaide, along the coastline of Coorong National Park, hundreds of odd-shaped mounds decorate the sandy white Australian beaches.

These mounds, known as middens, are made up of thousands of saltwater pipi shells or kuti, as they are referred to as in the local Ngarrindjeri language. The middens are a relic of history, reflecting the historic role of kuti in nourishing the Indigenous population. “One study found that a single midden contained enough protein to feed a Ngarrindjeri family for 1 600 years”, says Derek Walker, Ngarrindjeri Elder and CEO of Kuti Co – a fully Indigenous-owned fishing enterprise. “While kuti harvesting has always been part of our cultural practice, there were no commercial licenses for Ngarrindjeri. Historically we were left out,” explains Derek.

Commercial fishing increased significantly in the 1990s as a result of growing market demands for kuti in the restaurant trade. However, a lack of regular stock assessments and management measures led to the fishery being too heavily exploited.

Recognizing the need to protect stocks in the long-term, Goolwa PipiCo, Australia’s largest kuti processing company, began to implement sustainable harvesting practices, and achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2008. This certification covers about 60 percent of the fishery’s total quota, not only improving the management of the resource, but also helping small-scale fisheries access markets and major retailers that require such certifications.

In 2016, Goolwa PipiCo approached Derek to establish a new partnership. Kuti Co was founded with the help of funding from the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation in 2019.
“It was an exciting opportunity to be in a venture that would offer employment and growth opportunities we could put back into the community”, says Derek.

Digging into the sand with their bare feet, using the waves to wash them into their net, the kuti fishers from South Australia are harvesting seafood sustainably.
“It’s a fantastic partnership”, adds Tom Robinson, Managing Director of Goolwa PipiCo. “We’re also looking into other initiatives to meaningfully engage First Nations people into co-management of fishery resources.” The Ngarrindjeri fishing enterprise of Kuti Co preserves local culture and traditions while creating jobs and opportunities for the community.