A NSW Government website


Fisheries in NSW

Commercial fisheries and aquaculture industries in NSW have a combined annual gross production value of approximately $152 million (2014/15 – 2016/17 annual average1). Wild-caught fishery production accounts for 58% of this total1. Recreational fishing also makes a substantial contribution to the NSW economy with an estimated $1.625 billion added to the State’s economy through travel expenditure for recreational fishing trips, fishing tackle and boat-related items in 20122.

Current Climate Impact Trends

The impacts of climate change on the East Australian Current (EAC) are already apparent, with this current is now drawing warm water approximately 350 km further south than it did in the past 3, 4, 5. As a result, coastal and offshore environments adjacent to south-eastern Australia, including NSW, are warming at a rate that is between 3 and 4 times more rapid than the global average. This rate of warming places the NSW marine environment among the top 10% of fastest warming regions of the global ocean6.

In addition to general warming trends, marine heatwaves off eastern Australia are becoming more frequent and persisting for longer due to climate change7, with a particularly intense event recorded recently in 2015/16. These prolonged anomalously warm water events can cause rapid shifts in the distributions of important marine plants and animals and affect the capacity of fisheries to harvest target species8.

Future Climate Change

Research suggests that climate change is likely to increase the rate and magnitude of change in the marine environment around Australia and that ocean warming is likely to be greater in NSW marine systems than other regions of the country. By 2050, average sea surface temperatures off the NSW coastline are projected to be at least 2°C higher for all months of the year relative to the historical average for period encompassing 1990-20009. Changes such as these are likely to affect the distribution of key fish, invertebrate and habitat-forming species, seeing them shift southwards along the eastern Australia coast, however, research on these impacts remains sparse.

Vulnerability Assessment

The NSW DPI Climate Change Research Strategy is working to develop a comparable analysis of climate change impacts for a range of key primary industries across NSW. For fisheries, the Vulnerability Assessment project is analysing climate change impacts for yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi), Australian bonito (Sarda australis), Australian spotted mackerel (Scomberomorus munroi), narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) and common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus), which are species known to closely associate with environmental conditions being impacted by climate change.

This work will help to provide a picture of potential climate change impacts to fisheries for NSW, looking ahead to 2050. It is intended that this work will help identify adaptation needs and priorities that can guide research and development activities over the next 30 years to increase resilience of this critical sector to a changing climate.

Fisheries Commodities

The Vulnerability Assessment project includes the following fish species:

  • Bonito (Sarda australis)
  • Dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus)
  • Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson)
  • Spotted mackerel (Scomberomorus munroi)
  • Yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi)

The project also includes co-funded PhD research on kelp forests under climate change supported by Southern Cross University.


1 Mobsby, D. (2018), Australian fisheries and aquaculture statistics 2017, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2018-134, ABARES, Canberra, December.

2 McIlgorm, A. and Pepperell, J. (2014) An economic survey of the recreational fishing charter boat industry in nsw. A report to the NSW Department of Primary Industries by Dominion Consulting Pty Ltd

3 Cai, W., Shi, G., Cowan, T., et al. (2005) The response of the southern annular mode, the East Australian Current, and the southern mid‐latitude ocean circulation to global warming. Geophysical Research Letters, 32.

4 Cetina-Heredia, P., Roughan, P., Van Sebille, E., Coleman, M.A. (2014) Long-term trends in the East Australian Current separation latitude and eddy driven transport. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 119, 4351–4366.

5 Ridgway, K. (2007) Long‐term trend and decadal variability of the southward penetration of the East Australian Current. Geophysical Research Letters,34.

6 Hobday, A.J. and Pecl, G.T. (2014) Identification of global marine hotspots: Sentinels for change and vanguards for adaptation action. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 24:415-425.

7 Oliver, E.C., Donat, M.G., Burrows, M.T., et al. (2018) Longer and more frequent marine heatwaves over the past century. Nature communications, 9:1324.

8 Cure, K., Hobbs, J.-P.A., Langlois, T.J., et al. (2018) Distributional responses to marine heat waves: Insights from length frequencies across the geographic range of the endemic reef fish Choerodon rubescens. Marine Biology, 165:1.

9 Hobday, A.J. and Lough, J.M. (2011) Projected climate change in Australian marine and freshwater environments. Marine and Freshwater Research, 62:1000-1014.