Dale Leslie Brown of Bundaberg and Bruce Little of Kepnock yesterday were found not guilty to charges they had used cruelty when hunting a dugong at Woodgate, in southeast Queensland, in July last year.

The pair had been charged by the RSPCA under the Animal Care and Protection Act after allegations they had cut flesh from the dugong while it was still alive.

“It’s really a big relief that the strain has been taken away from us,” Mr Little said, after hearing the verdict handed down by magistrate Barry Burnett in the Bundaberg Magistrate’s Court.

“Not one of us ate that meat raw,” he added.

Mr Little told the AAP news service that he had faced a $75,000 fine or two years in prison if found guilty.

RSPCA Queensland chief executive Mark Townend has also taken issue with the use of motorised boats by indigenous hunters.

He said traditional hunting was done in dugout canoes when fridges and freezers were not available.

“The animals have no chance,” Mr Townend said.

“Most elders agree with us and it will be very much part of any future debate.”

Mr Little defended his actions saying “our culture has moved with the times.”

“We spear it with a traditional spear and drown it and tie it up to our boat,” he said.

Concerns about the impact of dugong hunting resurfaced late last year after a report by dugong expert Helene found the animals were being harvested at an unsustainable level in the Torres Strait.

In November, the Minister for Fisheries Ian Macdonald called for an immediate review of dugong hunting, which is currently permitted by some indigenous communities under native title legislation.

In December, the Angumothimaree indigenous owners, of Weipa in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, signed a landmark indigenous hunting agreement with the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

In a signal of moves towards tightening up protection of marine species, the agreement introduced a permit system controlled by traditional owners which allows the catch of one male dugong per permit during the months of December through to March.

Three other Queensland communities have also expressed interest in following the lead set by the Angumothimaree.

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