Fishing

The Great Barrier Reef supports commercial, recreational, Indigenous and charter fishing that targets a range of species including fish, sharks, crabs and prawns.

There are 10 major commercial fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef Region — the main ones are the trawl, net, line and pot fisheries, and there is limited entry for commercial fishing licences.

The coral and marine aquarium collection fisheries also collect fishes, corals and invertebrates for domestic and international markets.

In 2011-12, the economic contribution of the region's commercial fishing and aquaculture industries was valued at $160 million, with the commercial fishing sector generating the equivalent of 975 full-time jobs.

Recreational fishing is one of the most popular activities on the Great Barrier Reef and contributed significantly to the $243.9 million generated by Reef recreational users in 2011-12.

A 2010 state-wide survey estimated that 703,000 Queensland residents went fishing in the 12 months prior to June 2010, capturing approximately 13.3 million individual fish.

Management

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority uses zoning to determine where different activities, including fishing, are able to take place. About two-thirds of the Marine Park is open to recreational fishing.

Fisheries management in the Marine Park is the responsibility of the Queensland Government.

Under an intergovernmental agreement, the Australian and Queensland governments collaborate on fisheries management — a key aim is to achieve ecologically sustainable fishing.

Through a joint Field Management Program, we work with the Queensland Government to use a variety of compliance measures, including surveillance and other enforcement activities.

Impacts

Fishing is the main extractive use of the Great Barrier Reef.

Some remaining impacts of fishing pose major threats to the future vitality of the Reef.

The highest fishing-related risks to the ecosystem are incidental catch of species of conservation concern, illegal fishing and poaching, discarded catch, extraction of predators and extraction from spawning aggregations.

Predators, including coral trout, mackerel and sharks, make up about half of the retained catch in the fourth largest commercial fisheries, and form a large percentage of recreational fishing catch.

The harvest of fisheries resources affects the abundance of targeted species.

Reductions in predator populations can have long-term effects on the food chain, with research showing it may also affect their prey species.

Monitoring and stock assessments for a limited number of target species indicates populations of some species are under pressure, including grey mackerel, Spanish mackerel, garfish, pink snapper and black teatfish (sea cucumber).

In 2004, rotational fishing was introduced to spread and limit the risk of over-exploitation of sea cucumbers.

In 2012, the retained commercial catch in the Great Barrier Reef region was about 7900 tonnes. The amount returned to the ocean, and its survival success, is poorly understood.

Dugong Protection Areas were introduced in 1997, primarily to reduce the threat to dugong from commercial fishing nets. However, incidental catch of iconic conservation species, including dugong and inshore dolphin species in the commercial netting component of the East Coast Inshore Finfish Fishery, remains a very high risk.

Commercial fishers have initiated innovative changes to netting practices that have further reduced the risk of incidental catch of dugong in areas like Bowling Green Bay near Townsville.

Herbivorous fish are considered important to the Reef's health, but are not targeted by most commercial and recreational fishing.

Trawling — which has the potential to damage habitat and incidentally catch species of high ecological risk — is restricted to specific areas of the Marine Park.

Impacts of the trawl fishery have been significantly reduced since the late 1990s because of the introduction of bycatch reduction and turtle excluder devices, however trawling still poses high and intermediate levels of risk to a range of species.
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