Commercial line fishing in Queensland


Line-fishing is one of Queensland's main forms of commercial fishing, with its catch valued at about $31 million a year. There are five line fisheries operating in tidal waters from the border with the Northern Territory to the border with New South Wales; these are the:

  • Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery
  • Rocky Reef Fin Fish Fishery
  • Pelagic Fishery (which extends throughout Queensland's offshore waters, including the Gulf of Carpentaria, and targets mainly Spanish mackerel and the lesser mackerels)
  • Gulf of Carpentaria Fin Fish Fishery
  • Deepwater Multiple-Hook Fishery.

All five fisheries use fishing lines, with a restriction on the number of lines and hooks that can be used. Boats used range from fleets with sophisticated equipment to small dinghies.

Some of the catch is sold locally as frozen or fresh fillets, steaks or whole fish, while some is marketed as live fish for export.

Line fishery management areas

The line fisheries, denoted by five different fishery symbols, cover all tidal waters out to the Queensland Offshore Constitutional Settlement boundary, extending east from the Queensland-Northern Territory border to include a large part of the Gulf of Carpentaria, north around the tip of Cape York Peninsula, and then south along the east coast of Queensland to the Queensland-New South Wales border.

The five commercial fisheries operate in four main areas:

  • the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • south of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the New South Wales border
  • the Gulf of Carpentaria
  • in waters deeper than 200 m outside the Great Barrier Reef.

Of these, the Great Barrier Reef, with its many reefs and vast areas of shallow water, is by far the most heavily fished by commercial line fishers, accounting for about 85% of total harvest in the commercial line fishery. The Gulf of Carpentaria accounts for about 8% and the area south of the Great Barrier Reef about 7%.

For maps of individual fishery symbol areas, see Commercial fishery symbols in Queensland.

Target species

Line fishers target a diverse range of species. In the commercial fishery, three species dominate:

  • coral trout, with about 35% of total line catch
  • Spanish mackerel, with about 20%
  • red-throat emperor, with about 15%.

The other significant species are:

  • snapper
  • jobfish
  • red emperor
  • nannygai
  • trevally
  • spotted mackerel.


The main types of gear used in these fisheries are bottom handlines and trolling gear, with drop (or trot) line limited to the Deepwater Multiple-Hook Fishery (deeper than 200 m).

There are three types of line-fishing, using fundamentally different techniques: 

  • Bottom handlines are used for demersal fish (those that spend most of the time near the bottom - for example, coral trout). Hand-held lines are single lines with baited hooks or gangs of hooks lowered from a stationary boat into the water by a rod or by hand. This is a common fishing method in most of the line fisheries, with the notable exception of the pelagic fishery.
  • Trolling is used for pelagic fish (those that swim in open water and often have a wide geographical range, such as Spanish and spotted mackerel). Trolling involves towing lures or baited hooks on lines behind a boat.
  • Droplines are vertically set lines, with baited hooks, that are dropped from stationary boats into deepwater areas such as water adjacent to offshore drop-offs and submarine canyons. Drop-lining is usually conducted in water more than 200 m in depth to target deepwater species such as rosy jobfish and goldband snapper.


  • The fisher must have a commercial fisher licence.
  • The boat must be licensed with a commercial fishing boat licence.
  • The boat licence must be officially endorsed for the particular fishery (that is, marked with the symbol that stands for that fishery). Each symbol denotes a certain geographical area, target species and type of gear.

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


The regulations for commercial line-fishing include:

  • zoning, with area closures or restrictions (under the Fisheries Act 1994 and the Marine Parks legislation)
  • closures during spawning season
  • a ban on taking certain species
  • restrictions on boat size
  • restrictions on the number of hooks on lines
  • minimum and maximum legal sizes for fish
  • a catch quota management scheme for coral reef fin fish and Spanish mackerel under the Fisheries Regulation 2008 to cap the commercial harvest
  • possession limits on recreational fishers.

As well as these management measures, which apply to individual species and stocks, there is another level of control over the fishery resources of the Great Barrier Reef - the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). The GBRMPA specify the types of activities that are permitted on particular islands, reefs and shoals within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This is done through a system of zoning. In some zones, fishing is prohibited or restricted.

Closed season guidelines

These guidelines are provided to help fishers interpret the legislation relating to the coral reef fin fish spawning closures.

  • Notice must be given by midnight, prior to the start of the closure. 
  • Your vessel must be in port for the purposes of unloading by 6 am on the first day of the closure.
  • You can depart port for the fishing grounds during the closure but must not take or be in possession of coral reef fin fish during the closure period. This allows you to steam to fishing grounds in order to be able to commence fishing as soon as the closure has ended.

Monitoring and reporting

Commercial fishers have a legal obligation to report information about their fishing activities in a compulsory daily logbook. All line fishers must contribute data about their day's catch, location fished and the time spent fishing. The data provided is used to assess and monitor the status of individual species and fisheries in Queensland.

See Monitoring our fisheries for more details.

Under Queensland fisheries legislation, people who commercially fish or buy coral reef fin fish or Spanish mackerel are required to meet additional reporting requirements.

See Catch reporting requirements for all quota fisheries (excluding trawl)  for more information.

East Coast cash flow tools

Fisheries Queensland aims to maximise the value of fishing businesses and their ongoing profitability.  As part of the industry development plan it was identified that the development of cash flow budgeting tools would be a benefit to commercial operators to better analyse their business.

The East Coast coral reef line fishery cashflow tool is aimed at line fishing businesses which incorporate live reef fish, in conjunction with fresh and frozen product.  The East Coast rocky reef cashflow tool is aimed at line fishing businesses which focus on fresh and frozen product only.  Download these tools to help your business today.

Laws relating to Queensland's line fishery

The line fisheries in Queensland are operated in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1994.

Other relevant legislation:

  • Fisheries Regulation 2008
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Commonwealth)
  • Marine Parks Act 2004
  • Nature Conservation Act 1992
  • Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth).

Further information

Last updated 02 September 2015