Recreational fishing

​Recreational fishing is a popular activity that contributes economic and social benefits to the Australian economy, particularly in regional areas. The most recent national recreational fishing survey estimates that about 3.4 million Australians engage in recreational fishing each year, directly contributing an estimated $1.8 billion to the economy (Campbell & Murphy 2005; Henry & Lyle 2003).

Some industries depend on the recreational fishing sector wholly (the fishing tackle and bait industry and the fishing tour and charter industry) or for a large proportion of their income (the recreational boating industry and the tourism industry in coastal regions). In 2003 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimated that the sector supports about 90,000 Australian jobs (ABS 2003). Campbell and Murphy (2005) estimated that recreational fishers spent $223 million on fishing gear, tackle and bait in the 12 months to May 2000 (including second-hand purchases). Dominion Consulting (2005) estimated that the value of retail sales in the tackle and bait industry in 2003–04 was $665 million. For the recreational boating industry, annual turnover was estimated at around $500 million, of which 60 per cent related to fishing (ABS 2003).

It is difficult to value the recreational sector because unlike commercial fishers who sell their catch on markets, recreational fishers do not have to pay for fish caught recreationally. They therefore do not reveal the associated value they gain from catching fish. Although non-market valuation techniques are available to estimate the value of recreational fisheries, these techniques are often costly to apply. Such recreational values cannot be easily compared with gross value of production measures used for valuing the commercial sector. For these reasons, estimates of the economic value of recreational fishing are often not available.

Managing recreational fishing

Individual state and territory authorities are responsible for managing recreational and charter fishing in Australia. State and territory governments use controls on fish size, bag limits, gear restrictions and seasonal and area closures to regulate recreational catches. Licensing requirements and regulations vary considerably between jurisdictions and often depend on location within a jurisdiction, the fishing method used and the species targeted. Recreational fishers are not required to report their activities to fishery management agencies. However, in some states charter operators report the total catch and fishing effort of tour groups as a condition of their licence. Some states require that recreational fishers be licensed and that anglers carry their licences while fishing.

Estimating catch and expenditure of recreational fishers

Estimating the catch and harvest of fish by recreational fishers depends on surveys of the general population and targeted surveys of fishers contacted through licence details or at known fishing locations where fishers commonly have access to fish stocks.

National survey of recreational fishers

Comprehensive national recreational fisheries statistics are not available for recent years. A National Social and Economic Survey of Recreational Fishing is currently underway and results are expected to be released post 2020. This survey is targeted at presenting the different social and economic benefits of recreational fishing as well as the direct and indirect contribution of recreational fishing to the national economy. For further information about this survey see The National Recreational Fishing Survey website.

The last Australia-wide survey of the sector was the 2000–01 National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey (NRIFS) conducted by Australian Government and state/territory fishery management agencies (Henry & Lyle 2003). The study used a telephone screening survey of the general population (March to April 2000) to estimate the number of recreational fishers in each state and territory and a diary survey of recreational fishers (May 2000 to April 2001) to gather information on the extent of their activities.

The survey results indicated that 3.4 million fishers participated in recreational fishing in the 12 months to May 2000 with New South Wales having the largest number of participants at nearly 1 million. Estimated expenditure on services and items related to recreational fishing was $2.8 billion (in 2016–17 dollars) over the diary survey period. In real terms (2016–17 dollars) New South Wales had the largest expenditure ($829 million), followed by Victoria ($593 million) and Queensland ($478 million). The annual average expenditure per fisher in real terms (2016–17 dollars) was highest in Victoria at $1,079 per fisher, followed by Western Australia ($1,057 per fisher) and the Northern Territory ($910 per fisher). The national average was $826 per fisher per year.

Since 2001 the NRIFS survey methodology has been repeated in some states and the Northern Territory, although not in concurrent time frames. A comparison of key participation and fishing effort data from the NRIFS and subsequent  state – and territory-wide surveys shows a moderate reduction in numbers of resident fishers and a more pronounced reduction in participation rate and total days spent fishing in states where the surveys have recently been repeated. With the exception of the 2009–10 Northern Territory survey, the recent statewide surveys do not include data on expenditure by fishers.

Jurisdiction-based surveys

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New South Wales

The NSW Department of Primary Industries conducted a 2013–14 recreational fishing survey using the same methodology as the 2000–01 NRIFS. The survey estimated that 849,249 NSW and ACT residents participated in fishing in the 12 months to June 2013 (a participation rate of 12 per cent). More males than females fished, with the male participation rate 17 % compared with 7 per cent for females. The highest number of fishers were between 30 and 44 years of age. The highest participation rate of any age group was 20 per cent for 5 to 14-year-olds (West et al. 2016). In 2017 the NSW Department of Primary Industries commenced a statewide survey of recreational fishing, which was run from October 2017 to September 2018. The results for the 2018–19 survey are planned to be available by early 2020. A fourth survey commenced in September 2019 for the 2019–20 year


From March to July 2011 Fisheries Victoria conducted a survey of fishers targeting southern bluefin tuna in western Victoria. During interviews at boat ramps and while gathering catch, fishers were asked about fishing effort and size composition of retained southern bluefin tuna. In 2012 the Victorian Fisheries Authority surveyed 4,500 Recreational Fishing Licence holders on the importance of inland fishing locations (such as rivers, lakes and estuaries) and preferred species to catch to recreational fishers.

Fisheries Victoria (now the Victorian Fisheries Authority) has run the statewide Angler Diary Program since the mid-1990s to collect statistics on Victorian recreational fishing. Between 2011 and 2014, 150 angler diarists recorded fishing activity for 10 key target species in 11 waterbodies in Victoria. Angler diary programs are run in selected inland and estuarine water bodies where monitoring is required under fishery management plans (Conron et al. 2012).

In 2014 a survey of recreational fishers was conducted that provided estimates of the economic contribution of recreational fishers to the Victorian economy (EY 2015). According to the survey results an estimated 838,119 adult Victorian residents participated in recreational fishing in 2013–14. This compares with an earlier report which estimated that 721,000 Victorians participated in recreational fishing in 2008–09 (EY 2009).


The 2013–14 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey performed by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries collected reliable estimates of recreational participation rates, statewide and regional annual catch, common species caught by recreational fishers and regions where recreational fishing activities took place.

The survey results estimated that 15 per cent of Queenslanders (642,000 people) aged five years and over had engaged in recreational fishing. The survey combined diary and telephone surveys to collect high-quality data over 12 months (Queensland DAF 2015). The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries estimates that the commercial equivalent for recreational catch in Queensland in 2016–17 was $94 million (Queensland DAF 2018).

A more recent recreational fishing survey commenced in April 2019 and is planned for completion by mid-2020(Queensland DAF 2019). Initial results from the first stage of this survey have shown a large increase in participation in Queensland recreational fisheries from residents five years and over, with participation increasing from 13% in 2013 to 19% in 2019. The results from this phase indicate that 943,000 people recreationally fished in Queensland in 2019.

South Australia

In 2013–14, a recreational fishing survey was conducted that provided estimates of recreational fisher participation levels, demographics and fishing effort (Giri & Hall 2015). The survey estimated that 277,027 SA residents engaged in recreational fishing in the 12 months to November 2013 (a participation rate of 18 per cent). For more information about recreational fishing in South Australia, see Giri & Hall (2015).

Western Australia

Results from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Statewide Survey of Boat-Based Recreational Fishing in 2015–16 were published in late 2017 (Ryan et al. 2017). The survey provides estimates of participation, effort and the quantity of fish retained and released for each WA fishing region. The survey found that, from a population of 137,388 Recreational Fishing from Boat Licence holders, an estimated 117,023 fished at least once in 2015–16. 55 per cent of the recreational catch consisted of finfish species and school whiting was the most caught finfish.


The Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, carried out the 2012–13 Survey of Recreational Fishing in Tasmania (Lyle, Stark & Tracy 2014). Survey estimates of recreational fishing participation, landed catch and effort applied the same methodology as the previous statewide survey by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute (Lyle et al. 2009). Both surveys were funded by the Fishwise Fund.

Other surveys funded through the Tasmanian Fishwise Community Grants program included assessments of the recreational rock lobster and abalone fisheries (Lyle & Tracey 2012), studies of net fishing and a survey of game fishing in Tasmania (Forbes, Tracey & Lyle 2009).

Northern Territory

The NT Government conducted a recreational fishing survey from February 2009 to March 2010. The survey repeated the NRIFS methodology of a telephone screening/participation survey and fisher diary but also included surveys at boat ramps and accommodation establishments in key catchments (West et al. 2012). The survey found that non-Indigenous NT residents spent an estimated $47 million annual on goods and services directly related to recreational fishing. Most of this ($33 million) was spent on boats and trailers. The NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources announced it would conduct a recreational fishing survey for 2018–19 beginning October 2018. The results of the survey are expected to be released in 2020 (NTDPIR 2018).

Australian Capital Territory

ACT fishers were included in the 2013–14 NSW statewide recreational fishing survey.

Commonwealth waters

Recreational fishing data were not explicitly collected for Commonwealth-managed fisheries, but Henry and Lyle (2003) did record recreational fishing by water body type. One of the categories of water type, ‘offshore’, in many instances coincided with Commonwealth waters. Of the 23.2 million fishing events recorded over the survey period, only 4 per cent (937,000 events) occurred in offshore waters. Measured by number of fish, the highest catch in offshore waters were emperors, whiting and King George whiting.

In October 2010 Recfish Australia released Recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters: a preliminary assessment, focusing on the level of recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters. The report found that in some regions in 2005–06, particularly Narooma–Bermagui, 47 per cent of fishing trips occurred in Commonwealth waters and generated about $27 million for the local community (Recfish Australia 2010).

Between December 2010 and May 2011 ABARES surveyed game fishers, local businesses and community members at three eastern Australian sites where game fishing tournaments were held several times a year (Ward et al. 2012). The sites were Mooloolaba, Port Stephens and Bermagui. Tournament game fishers surveyed at Mooloolaba averaged 13 game fishing trips to that site, amounting to 15 days per year. Those at Port Stephens averaged six trips (nine days) and those at Bermagui, four trips (11 days) per year. On average, fishers spent $4,625 for a tournament trip to Port Stephens, $2,698 per trip to Bermagui and $2,378 per trip to Mooloolaba.

The net economic value of game fishing was also estimated. This is the ‘use value’ (non-financial) that individuals place on a game fishing trip, in addition to their actual expenditure. The net economic value from a trip to Bermagui ($124 per individual per trip) was substantially higher than that for Port Stephens ($67), but survey respondents travelled greater distances to experience game fishing in Bermagui.

The University of Tasmania and ABARES on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources will undertake a recreational fishing survey of southern bluefin tuna and other large tuna and billfish. Data collection will begin in December 2018 and conclude in November 2019. Results are expected to be released in mid 2020 (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018).



Last reviewed: 4 June 2020
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