Fishing Permits and Licences

Fishing in Australian waters is regulated by the Fisheries Management Act 1991, which sets out the laws on fishing rights and fishing permits and contains a number of criminal offences that are committed when the Act is not complied with. This page deals with the laws around fishing, fishing permits and offences relating to fishing under Australian Commonwealth law.

State or federal law?

Each state and territory of Australia also has legislation relating to fishing and offences involving fishing. There are also local government laws that may apply. It is important to check with local authorities as to which fishing laws apply in any location.

Fishing permits

Under section 32 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the Australian Fishing Management Authority (AFMA) may grant a fishing permit authorizing the use of a boat for fishing in a specified area for:

  • commercial fishing generally
  • recreational fishing generally
  • specified fishing activities

A fishing permit may be cancelled for a range of reasons including because the holder has been convicted of a fishing offence.

Scientific permits

Under section 33 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the AFMA may grant a scientific permit authorizing the use of a boat to conduct scientific research in a specified area.

A scientific permit may have conditions attached, including conditions about:

  • carriage on board of persons nominated by the AFMA to make scientific observations; and
  • the sale or disposal of fish.

A scientific permit may be revoked or varied by the AFMA.

Statutory fishing rights

Under section 21 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, there is a range of statutory fishing rights that apply to specific fisheries. These rights allow the holder to take a particular quantity of fish, use boats in the fisheries and use fishing equipment in the fisheries. They can be assigned to an Australian boat, transferred to another party, or leased.

Foreign fishing licences

Under section 34 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the AFMA may grant a foreign fishing licence to a person, allowing the use of a foreign boat for commercial fishing in an area of the AFZ or at a specified fishery.

Prohibited fishing

The Act prohibits certain types of fishing including fishing for black cod.


The Act makes it a criminal offence to engage is various activities without the appropriate fishing license or concession (statutory right or foreign fishing licence). Some of these offences are listed below.

Under section 95 of the Fisheries Management Act 1991, it is an offence for a person to:

  • engage in commercial fishing within the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ) without a concession or permit
  • use a treaty boat for commercial fishing without a licence
  • contravene a condition of a permit or concession or cause a person acting of their behalf to do so
  • have a fish in their possession in a boat at a time when the taking of the fish was not authorized by a concession or permit
  • keep a logbook that contains false or misleading statements.

Division 5A of the Fisheries Management Act 1991 contains offences that are committed beyond of the AFZ.

  • Having a fish in their possession in an Australian-flagged boat on the high seas where the taking of the fish was not authorized under a concession or permit
  • Fishing for conserved fish stock on the high seas
  • Possessing an Australian-flagged boat that is equipped for fishing on the high seas
  • Using an Australian-flagged boat for fishing in the waters of a foreign country without the authorization required
  • Using a foreign boat for fishing on the high seas without the authorization required by the country to which the boat belongs
  • Using an Australian-flagged boat to fish in foreign waters and contravening an international fisheries management measure.

The above offences are punishable by fines only.

A person who produced or tenders a false document that purports to be an instrument lodged with the AFMA in evidence commits an offence punishable by a maximum of two years imprisonment.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Taylor Rose.

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, and a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.