Harvest fisheries


Queensland's harvest (or collection) fisheries cover a wide range of species taken from several individually-managed fisheries. These fisheries are characterised by their harvesting method, which is primarily by hand or by using hand-held implements. Commercial harvesting methods often involve the use of underwater breathing apparatus, such as scuba or hookah. The harvest fisheries attract participants from the commercial, recreational and traditional/indigenous fishing sectors. Recreational limits apply to recreational harvest fishing.

There are five main harvest fisheries:

  • sea cucumber (beche-de-mer)
  • marine aquarium fish
  • coral
  • trochus
  • tropical rock lobster

On a smaller scale, commercial harvest fisheries exist in Queensland for:

  • beachworms, bloodworms and yabbies (i.e. the 'bait fisheries')
  • shells, shell grit and star sand
  • pearl shells
  • wild-caught oysters.

The harvest fisheries are a valuable component of Queensland's commercial fisheries, with the last economic productivity estimate indicating a combined value exceeding $14.7 million a year. Export markets are paramount to some of these fisheries, particularly those for which a solid domestic demand has not been established.

The harvest fisheries are managed by Fisheries Queensland via:

  • The Fisheries Act 1994 and the Fisheries Regulation 2008
  • Commercial harvest fishery licences (CHFLs) endorsed with the relevant fishery symbols, which are usually subject to conditions imposed by Fisheries Queensland. Harvest fishery symbols may also be attached to a Commercial Fishing Boat Licence (CFBL).
  • Policies and non-regulatory measures.

A non-regulatory strategy has also been adopted by Fisheries Queensland to minimise impacts on coral reefs showing signs of stress:

Other agencies impose additional management arrangements on some of the harvest fisheries:

  • Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (Marine Parks Division): within Moreton Bay and other State marine parks
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Obtaining a licence

No new licences or symbols are issued for existing fisheries. To enter a harvest fishery, you must first obtain the correct licence (CHFL or CFBL) and symbol(s) from an existing operator. Licences can be transferred from person to person and fishery symbols can be transferred from one licence to another licence.

See Licensing, catch reporting and enforcement for more information.

Sea cucumber fishery

The Commercial Sea Cucumber (beche-de-mer) Fishery (fishery symbol B1) extends along the Queensland east coast from the tip of Cape York south to a latitude of 26 degrees south (parallel to the southern limit of Tin Can Bay). In practice however, waters south of the Great Barrier Reef are rarely fished.

Main target species

The major commercially harvested species of sea cucumber include:

  • blackfish (Actinopyga miliaris)
  • burrowing blackfish (Actinopyga spinea - nomenclature confirmed by spicule analysis)
  • sandfish (Holothuria scabra)
  • white teatfish (Holothuria fuscogilva)
  • prickly redfish (Thelenota ananas)


Sea cucumbers are harvested mainly by divers breathing surface-supplied air from hookah equipment and, to a lesser extent, by free-diving from dinghies or by hand collection along reefs at low tide.


Once collected, the animal is gutted, then salted or blanched, and usually frozen for preservation at sea. Once landed, the product is transported to a processing facility where it is graded and cleaned, and may be boiled or dried before packaging. In its processed form the product is usually referred to as beche-de-mer.


The demand for beche-de-mer is dominated by the export market, with Hong Kong and Singapore being the main destinations.

Management arrangements

Commercial fishery

  • Limited entry: 18 CHFLs are endorsed for the commercial beche-de-mer fishery.
  • A Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) of 361 tonnes landed weight exists for the entire fishery.
  • Individual quotas: An individual annual quota is allocated to each licence.
  • Species-based catch limits: Due to their potential vulnerability to depletion, black teatfish has a quota of zero on all licences, white teatfish catch is limited, and collection of sandfish is prohibited in Hervey Bay.
  • Limits on the number of boats (one primary plus up to four tenders) and divers (up to 10) operating under a licence at any one time.
  • Hand collection only, with the aid of breathing apparatus allowed.
  • Limited access (number of days) to each reef or group of reefs: a voluntary initiative developed by licence holders and implemented via a memorandum of understanding.

Recreational fishery

  • No more than five sea cucumbers in possession at any time and no take of black teatfish.
  • No selling or trading of catch.
  • No use of underwater breathing apparatus (i.e. scuba or hookah), other than a snorkel.

Marine Aquarium Fish Fishery

The Marine Aquarium Fish Fishery (fishery symbol A1 or A2) operates along the Queensland east coast from the tip of Cape York south to the New South Wales border.

The following high use regions within the fishery area are defined as special management areas with limited access, in order to protect stocks in the areas from localised depletion:

  • Cairns area
  • Whitsundays area
  • Keppel area
  • Sunshine Coast area
  • Moreton Bay area

Refer to the Fisheries Regulation 2008 for the exact boundaries of these areas.

Harvesters of aquarium fish in Queensland rely on air transportation to supply both domestic and global markets. Therefore Cairns and Brisbane (Moreton Bay), with their international airports, are the two major centres of aquarium fish harvesting in Queensland. Fishing effort in waters adjacent to these ports is much higher than in other areas. Further, the travelling time from land to reefs and other suitable harvesting locations is relatively shorter in these areas.

Main target species

There are more than 1500 species of marine fish that could be harvested from Queensland waters for private or public aquarium displays. While some species have a broad distribution, others are endemic to Queensland and nearby waters and are heavily sought after by the export market.

The fish families important to the aquarium trade include:

  • damselfish (family Pomacentridae)
  • butterflyfish and bannerfish (family Chaetodontidae)
  • angelfish (family Pomacanthidae)
  • wrasses (family Labridae)
  • surgeonfish (family Acanthuridae)
  • gobies (family Gobiidae).


Aquarium fish are commercially harvested by hand with the use of hand-held apparatus, fishing lines (with a single barbless hook), cast nets, scoop nets, seine/barrier nets and/or herding devices (for example, a small rod). Divers in the commercial fishery are aided by self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba) or surface-supplied air from hookah apparatus, which gives extended time underwater and increased mobility for fish harvesting.

A small number of collectors target much larger fish to supply public aquaria. Those operators need to obtain a general fisheries permit if they require the use of equipment other than that which is generally allowed or if they intend to operate outside prescribed size limits and/or species restrictions.

Recreational harvesters cannot legally use scuba or hookah apparatus, but may use a mask and snorkel.


Fish that are taken from deeper waters are usually brought to the surface slowly to ensure that they are not damaged by the decreasing pressure. They are handled very carefully during all stages of the harvesting operation to minimise the mortality rate. Fish that are stressed or lose scales during harvesting become more susceptible to disease and infection and may not survive transport or export. Damaged or unhealthy specimens are of little commercial value.

Management arrangements

Commercial fishery

  • Limited entry.
  • Limits on the number of boats (one primary plus one other boat) and collectors (up to three) operating under a licence at any one time.
  • Limited access to special management areas: only some licences are allowed to fish in these areas.
  • Limited catch for A2 symbol holders.
  • Limits on the use of apparatus.

A guide to the Queensland Marine Aquarium Fish Fishery and the Queensland and Coral Fishery (PDF, 264.2KB) has been developed to describe the commercial fishery, how it operates and the current regulations that ensure the fishery remains sustainable.

Recreational fishery

  • Size and possession limits as set out in the Fisheries Regulation 2008.
  • No selling or trading of catch.
  • No use of artificial breathing apparatus (i.e. scuba or hookah).
  • Limits on the use of apparatus.

Coral fishery

The Commercial Coral Fishery (fishery symbol D) includes tidal waters along Queensland's east coast between the tip of Cape York and the Queensland-New South Wales border.

From 1 July 2006, commercial coral harvesters have been allowed to harvest from all tidal waters (under Queensland jurisdiction) extending from the tip of Cape York to the southern extent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) at a latitude of 24 degrees 30 minutes south (so long as they are open to coral harvesting under GBRMP Zoning). This is referred to as 'roving harvest'. Two small areas south of the GBRMP are open to harvesting under specific licences.

Main target species

The commercial coral fishery is based on the collection of a broad range of species from the classes Anthozoa and Hydrozoa. The key components of the fishery are:

  • live corals - e.g. Euphyllidae, Zoanthida, Corallimorpharia, Fungidae families
  • onamental (non-living) corals - Acroporidae and Pocilloporidae families
  • living rock (i.e. dead coral skeletons with algae and other organisms living on them)
  • coral rubble (i.e. coarsely broken up coral fragments)
  • coral sand (i.e. finely ground-up particles of coral skeleton) - only taken as incidental catch and may not be targeted within marine park waters.

Due to the strong market demand for live corals for use in private aquaria, key target species are generally the small and vibrant varieties of coral. Live rock is also a major component of the fishery, due to its suitability as a substrate for the smaller, brighter corals in aquarium tanks. Anemones are also part of the coral fishery and are a key target group.


Coral may only be taken by hand or by using hand-held non-mechanical implements, such as a hammer and chisel. Licence holders may also use scuba or hookah when taking coral.


The coral fishery focuses on the collection of coral specimens for commercial and private marine aquariums and to supply a small trade in decorative souvenirs and ornaments. More than 80% of all coral harvested goes into the aquarium trade. Queensland's coral fishery is one of the lowest impact coral fisheries on an international level. The emphasis of the fishery is on quality rather than quantity, which contributes to both the ecological and economic sustainability of the fishery.

Management arrangements

Commercial fishery

From 1 July 2006 the commercial coral fishery operates under the Queensland Fisheries Policy for the Management of the Coral Fishery (PDF, 340.4KB).

The following management measures are still in place for the commercial fishery under legislation and policy:

  • a total allowable commercial catch of 200 tonnes and individual quotas per licence.
  • limited entry
  • limits on the number of boats and collectors operating under a licence at any one time
  • collection by hand or hand-held implements only, with the aid of artificial breathing apparatus allowed.

Recreational fishery 

  • no selling or trading of catch
  • no use of underwater breathing apparatus (i.e. scuba or hookah), other than a snorkel
  • no collection in state marine parks and the GBRMP.

Trochus fishery

The Queensland East Coast Trochus Fishery (fishery symbol J1) operates along Queensland's east coast in tidal waters south of Cape York. In practice, fishing rarely occurs south of Gladstone. Mackay is the main port for the fishery.

The commercial trochus fishery is based on the collection of one species of trochus, Trochus niloticus.


Harvesting of trochus occurs by hand with the aid of hand-held non-mechanical implements, such as levers with a chisel point. Commercial collectors use underwater breathing apparatus to give extended time underwater and increased mobility for harvesting. The use of  breathing apparatus, other than a snorkel, is not permitted for recreational trochus fishers.

Management arrangements

Commercial fishery

  • limited entry
  • fishery catch limits: a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) of 250 tonnes
  • individual quotas
  • limits on the number of boats (one primary and up to four other tender boats) and collectors operating under a licence at any one time
  • collection by hand or hand-held implements only, with the aid of breathing apparatus allowed.

Recreational fishery

  • possession limit: no more than 50 shells in total for all gastropod and bivalve molluscs, including trochus, can be possessed by a person at any one time
  • no selling or trading of catch
  • no use of underwater breathing apparatus (i.e. scuba or hookah), other than a snorkel.

All fishers (except Indigenous fishers collecting for traditional purposes)

  • minimum size limit: 8 cm (across widest part of opening)
  • maximum size limit: 12.5 cm (across widest part of opening).

Note: As with all fisheries resources, trochus taken recreationally by Indigenous fishers are subject to the same controls and regulations applied to recreational fishers in general. That is, minimum and maximum size limits, possession limits and marine park restrictions apply uniformly to all forms of recreational fishing. However, trochus taken for customary or traditional purposes by Indigenous fishers are exempt from all of the above regulations.

Tropical rock lobster fishery

The Crayfish and Rock Lobster Fishery (fishery symbol R) for the east coast fishery comprises all tidal waters east of longitude 142°31'49'E, south of latitude 10°41'S and north of latitude 14°S. The commercial fishery area also includes tidal waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and adjoining waterways, between the 25 nautical mile line and the shore, south of latitude 10°48'S. However, the commercial fishery operates almost exclusively on the east coast between Cape York and Cape Melville.

The recreational fishery differs from the commercial fishery in that it covers all Queensland waters. Quantifying the area and effort of traditional or Indigenous fishing is difficult because of the lack of reliable information, but it is most likely to be concentrated north of Cairns.

Main target species

The east coast fishery consists mostly of one species, the tropical spiny rock lobster (Panulirus ornatus). Other species of tropical spiny rock lobster are also found in Queensland waters, but these are much less abundant and contribute only marginally to the total catch.

The tropical rock lobster species caught in Queensland are:

  • tropical spiny rock lobster or ornate spiny lobster (Panulirus ornatus)
  • painted spiny lobster or painted coral lobster (Panulirus versicolor)
  • coral crayfish, painted crayfish, white-whiskered rock lobster, long-legged spiny lobster or blue-spot rock lobster (Panulirus longipes fermorostringa)
  • pronghorn spiny lobster, surf lobster or double-spined lobster (Panulirus penicillatus)
  • scalloped spiny lobster (Panulirus homarus homarus)
  • mud spiny lobster or long-whiskered rock lobster (Panulirus polyphagus)
  • eastern rock lobster (Jasus verreauxi).

Note: The range of the eastern rock lobster does not extend into waters encompassed by the commercial fishery (above 14°S) and it is only taken by recreational fishers.

These species all vary in their geographical distribution, habitat preferences and biology. They have a variety of common names and some of these names have been used to refer to more than one species, leading to confusion. There is a trend for all species in the Panulirus genus found on the east coast of Queensland to be referred to by the common name 'tropical rock lobster'.


Commercial collection of tropical rock lobster is carried out using hand spears or spear guns or hand-held non-mechanical implements, for example, noose rods. Underwater breathing apparatus is also used in the commercial fishery. Free-diving using a face-mask and snorkel is commonly done in shallow waters.

Panulirus ornatus rarely enters pots and is therefore collected exclusively by diving. Most fishing activity is in reef-top waters greater than five metres in depth. In recent times, it has become more common for divers to use surface-supplied air from hookah equipment as competition has intensified for rock lobsters on reef tops. The use of hookah equipment is now the most common method of diving used in the east coast commercial fishery.

The method of capture varies, but the collection of lobster for frozen tails is usually by a rubber-powered hand spear used to penetrate the animal's carapace. As a result of market demand and better prices received by divers, live collection of lobster is now the preferred method, with divers taking the animals by gloved hand or by use of a noose placed over the tail.

Non-commercial collectors, including recreational and Indigenous fishers, free-dive using a mask and snorkel, a glove and/or a hand spear to catch tropical spiny rock lobster along the east coast of Queensland. Recreational fishers are permitted to use a rubber-powered hand spear or spear gun when taking rock lobster but are not permitted to use hookah apparatus or scuba gear.

Indigenous fishers collecting lobsters for subsistence purposes typically fish at night from outboard-powered dinghies. Restrictions placed on breathing apparatus limit recreational and traditional subsistence fishers to relatively shallow waters (less than 10 metres deep), but still allow access to most lobster species.

The eastern rock lobster is also most likely to be targeted by recreational spear fishers, and the harvest methods for this species do not differ from those for Panulirus species. There is little information on the recreational take of this more temperate lobster.

Management arrangements

Commercial fishery

  • individual transferable quota
  • limited entry
  • collection by hand, hand-help implements, or spear guns, with the use of underwater breathing apparatus allowed
  • limits on the size and number of boats operating in the fishery under a licence at any one time
  • distance between tender and primary boats restricted to five nautical miles
  • no more than one diver collecting per tender boat.

Recreational fishery

  • no more than three per person or six per boat in possession (north of 14 degrees south)
  • no more than five per person or 10 per boat in possession (south of 14 degrees south)
  • tail must be clipped or hole-punched.

All fishers (except Indigenous fishers collecting for traditional purposes)

  • closed season north of 14 degrees south: from midnight 1 October - midnight 31 December
  • minimum size limit for Panulirus ornatus 90mm (carapace length) and 115mm (tail length)
  • no take of egg-bearing and tar-spot females.

Laws relating to Queensland's harvest fisheries

The harvest fisheries are operated in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1994 and Fisheries Regulation 2008 .

Other relevant legislation:

  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Commonwealth)
  • Marine Parks Act 1982.

Further information

Last updated 09 September 2014