Economic contribution of recreational fisheries

Fishing authorities around Australia have only recently begun to collate reliable statistics on recreational fishers to include the number of days spent fishing per annum, the nature of the catch, the location of the catch as well as information about expenditure on this popular leisure activity. It is important to note at the outset of this information that recreational fisheries are valued here as expenditure on the activity of fishing for recreation and should not be compared with the value of commercial fisheries, valued as landed catch.

Participation rates in recreational fishing

An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey of the number of people engaged in certain recreational activities during 1999-2000 indicate that recreational fishing ranked fifth highest for its participation rate out of fifty recreational activities reported. Highest levels of participation in recreational fishing were found in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The participation rates for these states were 7.6%, 7.6%, and 7.0% respectively((Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2000. Participation in sport and physical activities. Canberra. Catalogue number: 4177.0)).

Economic value of recreational fishing

Some indication of the value of recreational fishing to regional economies can be ascertained by considering the results of a survey of Queensland residents on their participation in recreational fishing. The survey revealed that approximately 33% of Queensland’s households had at least one member over the age of five who had engaged in recreational fishing at least once over a 12 month period. It was further found that 60% of the catch was sourced from estuaries. Fishers are estimated to spend approximately $1,000 per annum on their fishing activities, including tackle, boats, travel and accommodation((Queensland Department of Primary Industries. Fishweb. Using these estimates, the contribution to the Queensland economy from individual fishers is approximately $880m, with $528m of this attributable to fishers in estuaries.

One of the most important target fish for recreational fishers in North Queensland is the Barramundi fishery. Of the estimated 867 tonnes of Barramundi caught by commercial fishers in 2000, an additional 289 tonnes is likely to have been caught by recreational fishers((Rutledge, W., Rimmer, M., Russell, J., Garrett, R. and Barlow, C. 1990. “Cost Benefit of Hatchery-reared Barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in Queensland”. Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, 21: 443-448.)). According to Rutledge et al. (1990), fillets of Barramundi are worth considerably more to a recreational fisher than to a commercial fisher. Estimates of the direct cost or expenditure for recreational fishers targeting Barramundi, including travel costs, suggest a value of approximately $51 per recreational fish and approximately $19 per commercial fish (assuming the fish weigh approximately 3kg). The study goes further, and estimates the flow-on or multiplier effects to the state and regional economies in Queensland from recreational Barramundi fishers to be approximately three. According to Rutledge et al. (1990), a single Barramundi caught by a recreational fisher could be worth $153 to the economy of Queensland((Rutledge, W., Rimmer, M., Russell, J., Garrett, R. and Barlow, C. 1990. “Cost Benefit of Hatchery-reared Barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in Queensland”. Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, 21: 443-448.)). This suggests that the recreational fishing of Barramundi in Queensland is estimated to be worth in the vicinity of $22m per annum.

However, these estimates are somewhat inflated. Rutledge et al. (1990), did not provide sufficient detail about the source of expenditure by recreational fishers, specifically, what part of expenditure was directly transferable to government as taxes or charges or what part of expenditure by fishers was on imported goods and services. In addition, a multiplier of three is quite substantial and as Rutledge et al. (1990), indicated a previous study by Hundloe (1985) had suggested a multiplier of two for a regional economy in North Queensland. This figure might have been more appropriate than a multiplier “borrowed” from an economy that may not bear any resemblance to the Queensland economy((Hundloe, T. 1985. “Fisheries of the Great Barrier Reef.” GBRMPA Special Publication Series (2). GBRMPA, Townsville.)). Typically, expenditure by fishers on locally produced goods and services, net of taxes and charges, is only 50% of actual expenditure((West, G. 1993. “The Economic Significance of Tourism in Queensland.” Annals of Tourism Research, 20: 490-504.)). This being the case for recreational Barramundi fishers, and adopting the more conservative multiplier, recreational Barramundi fishing in Queensland would be worth in the vicinity of $15m per annum.

Two recent surveys of recreational fishers have been undertaken in Queensland, one in Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Straits area and the other in the Pumicestone Passage region((Murphy, I. 2000. “Spending Habits of Recreational Fishermen and their Contribution to the Economy, Pumicestone Passage.” Report to Sunfish, Margate.)). Murphy estimates that fishers spend $38m to go fishing in the Hervey Bay and Great Sandy Straits area whilst fishers visiting the area are estimated to spend an additional $102m on accommodation. These estimates are for direct expenditure and do not include expenditure on capital such as boats, trailers or boat storage facilities. When the direct expenditure is considered together with the flow-on effects to the regional economy, assuming that 50% of the expenditure is sourced locally and an output multiplier of two, then the total impact on output in the region is considerable.

In the Pumicestone Passage region of southeast Queensland, recreational fishers are estimated to spend $8m per annum on fishing associated items((Murphy, I. 2001. “Spending Habits of Recreational Fishermen and their Contribution to the Economy, Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Straits Area.” Report to Sunfish, Margate.)).

In the Northern Territory, a total of 430,000 days are fished annually by recreational fishers responsible for an estimated $30m per annum of direct expenditure((Opcit. Murphy 2000.)). Information is not available to identify what part of the catch was sourced from estuaries. As for the estimates of flow-on benefits to the economy from Barramundi fishing, this level of expenditure needs to be considered in terms of what proportion of this stays in the regional economy.

Western Australia’s recreational fisheries are claimed as a major community asset and are estimated to contribute over $500m a year to the State’s economy((Department of Primary Industries (Qld). 2001. Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (NT). 2001. About 600,000 people or 34% of the population are estimated to fish. The coastal area between Kalbarri and Augusta attracts the highest level of recreational activity in the State with around 380,000 anglers responsible for a catch of approximately 400 to 500 tonnes per annum, mostly sourced from the Peel-Harvey Estuary((Fisheries Western Australia. 2001.

Direct expenditure by recreational fishers in the Gascoyne Coast bioregion on the central Western Australian Coast is estimated to be in the order of $50m per annum. This industry, together with tourism is the biggest industry in the region. According to the Australian National Sportfishing Association (2001), the recreational fishing industry in Australia is worth over $2.9bn per annum((Fisheries Western Australia. 2001. It is likely that over 60% of this will have been sourced from estuarine fisheries. The value of expenditure on recreational fishing in Australian estuaries, excluding flow-on impacts, is in the vicinity of $1.7bn per annum. It should be noted however, that estimates of expenditure on recreational fishing encompass the total experience of taking a holiday where recreational fishing is available as well as the expenditure on actual fishing trips. Further work is required to distinguish between expenditure by those who undertake recreational activity where fishing is the prime activity and those who go boating for whom catching a fish is not the prime motivation for being on the water.


Robinson, J., Cully, T., Coastal CRC