Recreational & Charter Fishing

  • Expenditure was estimated at $2.05 billion. ac
  • A fourth state-wide survey of recreational fishing was completed.
  • 89 new projects, worth more than $19 million, were approved for funding from the Recreational Fishing Trusts.
Boy fishing on a pier
Girls fishing on a pier
It is estimated that in 2020-21, fishers spent an estimated $2.051 billion ac on recreational and charter activities. A range of economic, social (health and wellbeing) and environmental benefits are generated through recreational fishers’ expenditure and associated fishing activities, as well as supporting regional communities.

Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - Charter Fishery Monitoring

NSW DPI’s Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program (RFMP) is collecting high quality information to assess NSW’s recreational fisheries, including a component which monitors the NSW Charter Fishery. This component uses trained observers on-board charter vessels to collect data on species caught, the size composition of the catch, condition of released fish, fleet fishing effort and extent, as well as interactions with wildlife and fisher demographics. This component collected data from over 400 observer trips with more than 50 participating operators between Ballina and Eden in 2019-20.
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Habitat rehabilitation in the Upper Richmond River

NSW DPI, through the Habitat Action Grants program and the Recreational Fishing Trust, have supported the Border Rivers Richmond Valley Landcare Network to complete a project on the Upper Richmond River focused on improving water quality, bank stabilistation, and enhancing in-stream and riparian habitat complexity. Activities included instream installation of large woody habitat, establishment of 300 native plants and ongoing weed control. The project achieved significant outcomes and will provide long-term benefits for fish in an area renowned for its quality Australian Bass fishing.
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Participation and Effort

Recreational fishing continued to be one of NSW’s most popular pastimes. During 2019-20, a fourth state-wide survey of recreational fishing was undertaken of over 434,000 long-term (one and three years) licence holders. Over 1,608 fishers participated in the survey (similar to the 1,618 fishers who participated in 2017-18), providing information on who went fishing, how much fishing was done, where fishing occurred and what was caught. Response rates were typically high with 67% of fishers initially contacted completing the 12-month survey. Based on the screening survey, 56% of fishers in licenced households participated in fishing during 2019-20. A full report on the results of this survey will be released in early 2022. 87 91

Recreationally caught species are also monitored through the charter boat fishery monitoring program. Capturing information on catch, effort, fish measurements, fisher demographics and wildlife observations, the program requires charter operators to complete logbooks and host scientific observers.

During 2019-20, 99 charter boat businesses operated in NSW waters, compared with 119 in 2017-18, and hosted scientific observers on over 400 occasions. Almost 5,000 fishing trips were undertaken, with around 52,000 anglers (down from 86,000 in 2017-18 and 80,000 in 2016–17). Although COVID-19 and the bushfire disaster (particularly on the South Coast) caused a substantial reduction in both recreational fishing effort and charter fishing business operations through 2019-20, the sector still contributed to regional economies through expenditure on travel, accommodation and meals, in addition to charter fees, with 20% of charter clients from inland regions of NSW, interstate or overseas. 93

Man standing and fishing in a river

Charter fishing catch and effort

  • Northern Region
  • Central Region
  • Southern Region
Source: DPI (2021)


The 2019-20 NSW Recreational Fishing Survey collected information on the number and type of fish and other species captured during the reporting period. Detailed analysis of the data will estimate the total number of fishing events undertaken, individual fish and other species captured, and identify the most common species. 87

The charter fishing sector recorded the capture of 143 different species of finfish, cephalopods and crustaceans. The top five species caught (by number) state-wide were Snapper (19,700), Bluespotted Flathead (18,400), Grey Morwong (8,400), Yellowtail Scad (6,500) and Blue Mackerel (4,000). 93

Scientific observers on board vessels in the nearshore marine charter fishery not only recorded catch and effort data from the fishery, but also collected information on wildlife interactions with the fishery, providing one of the few sources of information on the abundance and distribution of wide-ranging threatened, endangered and protected (TEP) species, including marine mammals and seabirds. To date, on-board observers have recorded over 4,000 individuals of more than 30 species in the vicinity of fishing vessels. The most commonly encountered group have been seabirds (including albatrosses and shearwaters), however, almost 500 marine mammals have also been observed comprising dolphins, seals and whales. 94

Importantly, direct interactions with the fishery have been shown to be rare with only 33 recorded at a rate of just 5.2 interactions per 100 hours of fishing. Seals were involved in most interactions (21) with seabirds involved in just 12. A single bycatch incident involving a shearwater (released alive) has been so far recorded in over 1,100 hours of observed fishing, highlighting the extremely low impact of this fishery on non-target wildlife species. 94

Size composition of key species harvested by the NSW charter fishery

Source: DPI (2021)

Size composition of key species harvested by the NSW charter fishery

Source: DPI (2021)

Size composition of key species harvested by the NSW charter fishery

Source: DPI (2021)

Size composition of key species harvested by the NSW charter fishery

Source: DPI (2021)

Recreational Fishing Trusts

Projects approved for funding from the Recreational Fishing Trusts in 2020-21

Source: DPI (2021)

*$750,000 for 2019-20 3.9% and $750,000 for 2020-21 3.9%.

The Recreational Fishing Trusts channel funds from recreational fishing licence fee sales into projects to improve recreational fishing experiences in NSW. Regulated by law and overseen by committees made up of recreational fishers, funds are used for projects undertaken by fishing clubs, organisations, councils, universities, DPI and others. Projects funded are diverse, encompassing research, education, habitat rehabilitation, fisheries enhancement, stocking, facilities, access and enforcement. In 2020-21, a total of 89 projects worth $19 million were approved for funding from the Recreational Fishing Trusts. 95 (Note: funding for GLS fees in 2019-20 was also approved in 2020-21).

A total of 474,517 licences (three day, one month, one year and three year) were sold during 2020–21. Recreational fishers are able to purchase licences through a variety of channels, including Agent Network (paper licences), Touch Agent (EFTPOS Terminal licences), Integrated Voice Recognition (IVR) automated phone numbers, online, over the counter, mail and BPAY. Online sales are by far the most popular option, accounting for 78% of sales. 96

Recreational fishing licence sales in 2020-21

  • Online
  • Agent - Paper
  • BPAY
  • IVR
  • Mail
  • Phone
  • OTC
  • Agent - Touch
Source: DPI (2021)