How Commonwealth, State and Territory Fisheries are managed

Australian commercial fisheries are strictly regulated to ensure they remain sustainable.

The management of Commonwealth, State and Territory fisheries are all founded on Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD) frameworks and eco-system management principles.

These regimes include a range of measures that ensure the Commonwealth marine areas are already well managed.

Fisheries management measures commonly include spatial and temporal closures. These can be considerable and are designed to meet a variety of objectives such as:

  • Protection for spawning activity and nursery areas;
  • Protection for important habitat areas during periods when interaction of non-targeted species is expected; and
  • To provide separation between other community uses such as recreational fishing and diving.

Other measures available to fisheries managers include:

  • A cap on the total number of licences;
  • Limits on the maximum number of fishing days; and
  • Quota systems, which set a limit on the total quantity of fish that can be harvested by commercial fishermen.

Fishing gear restrictions, including design and quantities permitted are also frequently implemented. Fishing gear is modified to ensure that the capture of vulnerable and endangered species is prevented, for example, Sea Lion Exclusion Devices are included in all pots in the Marine Stewardship Council certified Western Rock Lobster Fishery; and Fish Exclusion Devices are fitted to the nets on vessels harvesting Rottnest Island Scallop and King Prawns out of Fremantle, to allow larger fish species to escape.

Most State, Territory and ALL Commonwealth fisheries and fisheries that wish to export must undergo independent assessment under Ecological Sustainable Development guidelines to achieve environmental certification under the Commonwealth Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
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Australian fisheries management is science based, and licence holders in Commonwealth, State and Territory based fisheries also make significant contributions to fund the research and management of Australian fisheries. 


How will the Commonwealth Manage Marine Reserves?

When fishing industry refinements to current government proposals for the South-west, North, North-west, Coral Sea and Temperate East regions are added to existing marine reserves the nation will soon have a staggering 2,893,217 sq km marine reserves total.

This is greater than the combined land area of Western Australia and Victoria, and represents represents 35% of Australia’s total Exclusive Economic Zone under protection and in urgent need of management and funding.

The fishing industry remains very concerned that the cost to government (taxpayers) of the implementation of the national Commonwealth marine reserve network, its ongoing management and performance monitoring, R&D costs, and the costs of enforcement of the proposed reserve network will be prohibitive.

There are no clear signs that these costs (and purported benefits) have been articulated, or made available to the Australian community to inform public and industry consideration of the government’s proposal.

As an example, income to support operations for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) in 2010 was around $42.5M ($31.5m Government, $11m own generated) with a supporting staff of 207.

At almost three times the size of the GBRMP, the government’s proposed Coral Sea reserve will exist in a geographically remote and challenging environment.

It is remote from supporting services and infrastructure; and unlikely to generate income from tourism related activities.

In addition to the GBRMP Australia currently has another 26 marine reserves (14 included in the South-east Marine Reserve Network, which was proclaimed more than 4 years ago and still does not even have a management plan)i.

These reserves (not including GBRMP) received only 5.8 per cent of the funding allocated to land-based reserves although they cover an area more than 23 greater (Table 4 below).


Director of National Parks - 2010-2011 resourcing for Commonwealth Reserve Management 




No. Commonwealth reserves*26
Area of reserves (hectares)49,844,075 2,130,774
No. Full-time equivalent staff**15 290
Operating & capital costs ($’000)***3,50860,142


* @ 30 June 2011. Does not include Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
** 2009-2010 Marine staff was reduced to 13.7 in 2010-2011.
*** 2010-2011 Area of reserves (hectares)- three marine reserves had zero operating costs.

The Director of National Parks Annual Report 2010-2011 notes continuing major challenges for all Commonwealth marine reserves. The Fishing Industry agrees with this assessment.


Other Management issues that have not been considered in the extensive proposed “no take zones”

  • Loss of valuable ongoing data collection on state of the fisheries by commercial fishermen;
  • The enormous cost of research;
  • Illegal fishing monitoring;
  • Perverse incentives encouraging unsustainable fishing practises outside Australia’s jurisdiction; and
  • The apparent conflict between the policy of Marine Reserves which is based on fixed and inflexible long term closures, and climate change science and fisheries policy citing the need for flexibility for maximum resilience.





i Director of National Parks Annual Report 2009-10. Management of marine reserves is also delegated to the Marine and Antarctic divisions of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. @ $900k direct costs attributable to those divisions are included in the above ‘Operating Costs”.