Commercial fishing and zoning

Fishing on the Great Barrier Reef is part of the identity for Queensland coastal communities and helps support them economically.

Commercial fishing is the largest extractive activity in the Marine Park and an important contributor to Australia’s seafood industry, with about 8,000 tonnes of seafood harvested each year.

Viable commercial and charter fishing industries depend on a healthy ecosystem, just as Queenslanders rely on a healthy reef ecosystem for recreation and as a source of local seafood. Traditional Owners are also keen to ensure this culturally important resource remains healthy.

We work collaboratively with others including the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Australian Government Department Agriculture, Water and the Environment, and fishers to continuously improve fishing gear and methods.

Types of commercial fishing

There are five main types of commercial fishing activities in the Marine Park. In addition to the zoning information provided below, commercial fishers should also familiarise themselves with the Special Management Area requirements.

Trawl fisheries

The trawl fisheries are Queensland's largest commercial fishery. Trawlers fish in the Marine Park primarily using otter trawl nets which sweep the seabed in inter-reefal areas, and between coral reefs and the mainland coast, to catch prawns, scallops, bugs, squid and other marine life.

Zoning restricts trawling to the General Use (Light Blue) Zone in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Zoning incorporates Queensland Government trawl closures in the Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zone.

Line fisheries

Line fisheries include the tropical coral reef finfish fishery (also called the reef line fishery), the rocky reef finfish fishery and trolling. These fisheries use hook and line to catch fish such as coral trout, emperors, tropical snappers and mackerels.

In relation to line fishing and trolling

  • Line fishing is allowed in the General Use (Light Blue) Zone and the Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zone
  • Limited line fishing is allowed in the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone
  • No more than one dory is to be detached from its primary commercial fishing vessel in the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone and the Buffer (Olive Green) Zone
  • No dory is to be detached from its primary commercial fishing vessel in a Marine National Park (Green) Zone
  • Trolling is allowed in the General Use (Light Blue), Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) and Conservation Park (Yellow) Zones
  • Trolling for pelagic species is allowed in the Buffer (Olive Green) Zone.

Net fisheries

Netting by commercial fishers occurs in coastal waters and some offshore waters. The main species targeted are barramundi, king and blue salmon, shark, mullet and small mackerel species.

Netting may occur in the General Use (Light Blue) Zone and Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zone. Bait netting may occur in these zones as well as in the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone.

Commercial fishers must not take bream, flathead or whiting while operating bait nets in the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone.

Trap fisheries

These fisheries use apparatus such as crab pots and dillies to catch blue swimmer crabs, mud crabs and spanner crabs in inshore coastal and offshore waters. Crabbing is the only kind of trapping permitted 'as of right' in the General Use (Light Blue) Zone and Habitat Protection (Dark Blue) Zone.

Limited crabbing in the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone restricts the number of apparatus that can be used to four per person.

Dive-based harvest fisheries

The dive-based harvest fisheries involve the collecting of aquarium fish, coral, tropical rock lobster, trochus and sea cucumber. These fisheries require a permit under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003.

Managing commercial fishing

The Queensland Government is responsible for managing commercial fishing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Management arrangements for commercial fisheries include:

  • Limits on the number of fishing licences
  • Spatial and seasonal closures
  • Restrictions on fishing vessel size
  • Restrictions on the length, mesh size and number of nets used
  • Limits on the number of hooks used
  • Limits on the number of traps such as crab pots and dillies used
  • Limits on fishing effort or total allowable catch
  • Size limits and restrictions on the species that may be retained.