Save Our Marine Life
Save Our Marine Life

What the Coral Sea Marine Park means for Recreational Fishers

It’s time that recreational fishers get the facts about the Coral Sea Marine Park – where it is, what it means and how it will impact your fishing. Here’s a map of the Coral Sea Marine Park zoning plan, showing what the zones mean for recreational fishing access:
Ad-map copy

The Coral Sea Marine Park established what is effectively Australia’s largest exclusive recreational fishing zone and largest offshore green zone. This was suspended by the Abbott Government in 2013, pending a review, meaning that it was never implemented on the water.

These zones and the benefits for recreational fishing, tourism and conservation that come from them are at risk from Government plans to expand commercial fishing.

This is the official government map of the zoning plan for the Coral Sea Marine Park:

CSMP Govt zoning map

How the Coral Sea Marine Park established what is effectively the largest exclusive recreational fishing zone in Australian History

The map at the top is created using data sourced from the current zoning plan for the Coral Sea Marine Park. Note that the areas (and colours) represent what each zone means for recreational fishing access, rather than the official names given to the various zoning types.

The term ‘effectively exclusive access for recreational fishing’ is used because while these zones don’t prohibit every commercial fishing activity that takes place in them, they do restrict commercial fishing activities that target key species of importance for recreational fishers. We believe these areas will provide a real benefit for recreational fishers and that this information can help recreational fishers make more informed decisions about what the Coral Sea Marine Park will mean for them.

Gold zones – exclusive recreational access for all major target species around key reefs

Very limited commercial fishing methods like sea cucumber collection and hand collection for the aquarium trade are permitted in the gold zones on the maps. However, these fishing methods and the species they target have little or no overlap with the major target species of interest to recreational fishing.

Importantly, there are no commercial fishing methods permitted that target reef or pelagic fish like coral trout, giant trevally or dogtooth tuna, effectively creating exclusive access to these fish for recreational fishing. These zones extend over 20,000km2 of the Coral Sea Marine Park around important reefs for recreational fishers.

Orange zone – exclusive pelagic recreational fishing access for billfish and tuna

For the first time in Australia, this zone created an 180,000km2 area where, for recreational fishers, billfish and tuna stocks are protected from all currently occurring commercial fishing methods. This means that tuna and billfish stocks would become effectively the exclusive preserve of pelagic game fishers within this zone. This zone overlaps with one of the world’s most iconic marlin game fisheries, including the Townsville Trough breeding grounds for black marlin, and also breeding grounds for yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna.

Commercial fishing that targets reef associated species, and deep sea commercial fishing methods targeting bottom fish, are still permitted in this zone, which is named “Habitat Protection Zone (Coral Sea)” in the government zoning plan. The specific commercial fishing activities allowed can be found here.

The only active commercial fishing methods which could target tuna and billfish in this zone are minor line/trolling – which is a very minor part of the fishery. Only four vessels across the entire eastern Australian fishery reported using this method in 2014, and the level of fishing effort was negligible.

Purse seining, mid water trawling, long-lining and gill netting are all prohibited from this zone.

How the large offshore green zone will impact Australian recreational fishing

There’s a large green zone[1] in the Coral Sea Marine Park that covers 502,654 km2 in offshore Australian waters well beyond the Great Barrier Reef.

The nearest green zone in the Coral Sea Marine Park is 210 kms from Cairns, 330 kms from Townsville, 380 kms from Mackay, 500 kms from Gladstone, and 490 kms from Bundaberg.

To get there you’d have to take your boat past the extensive green zones already in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There’s over 170 of them, and anyone who’s fished in eastern FNQ coastal waters in the last decade has been fishing around them. Millions of fishing trips are made in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park waters every year.

While there were some concerns around the time of its establishment, time has proven that world class recreational fishing opportunities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are going hand in hand with world class conservation. The same will be true in our Coral Sea Marine Park.

You will still be able to access great reef fishing, because in the current Coral Sea Marine Park 24 out of 36 major reef systems – almost all of them in the part of the marine park nearest Australia – will remain open to recreational fishing.

CSMP reef systems and zoning

There will be excellent game fishing opportunities on offer too. Gamefish tagging records give us useful information about what areas have historically been important for recreational fishing.

There are over 1000 gamefish tagging records from the area that will become the Coral Sea Marine Park between 1989-2013.[2] Only 2.6% of these came from areas that would be off limits to recreational fishing in the plan. 13.8% came from areas that could become the largest effectively exclusive recreational fishing zone in Australian history in the part of the Coral Sea much closer to the Australian coast. By using actual historical patterns of recreational fishing activity, it’s clear that impacts are likely to be low, and there are potential benefits on offer.

See this map and note how few of the dots indicating a fish tagging record come from the green areas that would restrict recreational fishing:

CSMP Tagging data map

Why the Coral Sea Marine Park’s future is at a crossroads

The Coral Sea Marine Park’s future is at a crossroads. It has been subject to a review stacked in favour of commercial industry interests, and looks set to recommend opening up any areas of interest to the commercial fishing industry. One of the areas at biggest risk if this happens is the largest effectively exclusive recreational fishing zone for pelagic gamefish in Australian history.

The future of the Coral Sea Marine Park can go two ways. Expanded commercial fishing that diminishes the relatively intact ecosystem that makes it so special for fishing, tourism and conservation. Or a balanced Marine Park for this special area, and our North Queensland communities where world leading conservation, tourism and recreational fishing go hand in hand.


Galaxy research shows Cairns fishers support Coral Sea Marine Park Protection Zones

New Galaxy research has found 7 out of 10 voters in the Far North Queensland electorate of Leichhardt are concerned the federal government’s review of a Coral Sea marine park is harming local fishing and tourism businesses.

76 per cent of local recreational anglers support reinstating protection zones in the Coral Sea.

71 per cent of Liberal National Party supporters believe the federal marine park review is creating uncertainty for local tourism and fishing charter businesses.

93 per cent of voters in Leichhardt agree that the health of the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea are interlinked and protecting them both is important for both their future and the tourism jobs that depend on them.

72 per cent of people in Leichhardt strongly agree that maintaining a reputation for unspoilt nature experiences in marine parks is important for Queensland’s tourism industry.

75 per cent believe protecting reefs and other important areas in the Coral Sea as a green zone that provides sanctuary for marine life will boost business opportunities by enhancing the region’s reputation among tourists.

87 per cent of recreational anglers say the green zones on the Great Barrier Reef have had no negative impact on their ability to go fishing. 11 per cent say the green zones have improved their enjoyment of fishing.

This Galaxy research of 400 voters in Leichhardt was conducted between May 31st and June 1st 2016.


This research is backed up by earlier major studies of how fishers believe existing Australian marine parks affect their fishing:

In a survey of more than 1500 recreational fishers in Northern Queensland in 2007, 73% said the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had either no effect, or a positive effect, on their fishing activity.

Ref: Sutton, S. and Li, O. (2008) Attitudes of Recreational Fishers to the Rezoning of the Great Barrier Marine Park, Great Barrier Reef Research news special edition, Edition 5, May 2008, DEWHA, Government of Australia.

In a survey of 144 Townsville recreational fishers in 2009, 76% agreed that The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning plan helps ensure sustainable recreational fisheries in the GBR.

Ref: Arias A, Sutton SG (2013) Understanding recreational fishers’ compliance with no-take zones in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Ecology and Society 18(4) 18.




[1] The terms green zone/Marine National Park zone/Sanctuary zone are names used in various parts of Australia to mean a no-take zone. No extractive activities, such as recreational and commercial fishing, or mining, are allowed in a no-take zone, but non-extractive activities are allowed. No-take zones are used widely in Australia for conservation purposes. We use ‘green zone’ here because that is what they are called in Queensland.

[2] This data has some deficiencies because collecting accurate information about the spatial distribution of recreational fishing effort has always been difficult anywhere in Australia, particularly in remote waters. These tagging records come from the NSWDPI gamefish tagging program, the world’s largest. The data here shows all of 28,000+ individual records off northern Queensland over the period 1989-2013, shown as dots on the associated map. While a small portion of fishing trips involve tagging, the build up of a large number of records over the years creates a pattern that provides information about where historically important fishing locations occur.


Written and authorised by Adrian Meder, Australian Marine Conservation Society, 4/145 Melbourne St, South Brisbane, QLD 4101

Marine sanctuaries at risk