Empowering recreational fishers as champions of healthy fish habitat

Project Number:



OzFish Unlimited

Principal Investigator:

Craig Copeland

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:



Adoption, Environment, People

Empowering recreational fishers as champions of healthy fish habitat

Final Report
Author(s):Craig Copeland
Date Published:November 2018
From 2016 to 2018, recreational fishers across Australia focused their attention on fish habitat as part of the project, Empowering recreational fishers as champions of healthy fish habitat.
Why did we need this project?
Fish habitat throughout Australia is in trouble. Progressive degradation of fish habitat has occurred since European settlement and continues today. The degradation of the recreational fishery has significant implications socially and economically for Australia. Degradation of fish habitat needs to be slowed and the big challenge is to rehabilitate what has been lost. However, these changes are not happening to the degree needed; nor will they happen, without the active support of the recreational fishing community. In order for progress to be made, the skills, knowledge, capability and collaboration among Australia's recreational fishing community regarding fish habitat and habitat rehabilitation needed to be escalated.
What was done?
The project partners, in conjunction with recreational fishers:
  • Held 13 fish habitat forums and masterclasses in 6 states and territories.
  • Organised the National Fish Habitat Roundtable.
  • Developed the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.
  • Promoted fish habitat and built capacity within the recreational fishing community through talks, school activities, field days, and as part of fishing competitions and learn to fish days.
  • Developed a range of online tools and targeted messages.
  • Formed 18 groups across Australia to support and promote local fish habitat rehabilitation.
  • Got fish habitat news out through newspapers, newsletters, radio and magazines, as well as social media posts.
  • Improved capacity of recreational fishers so that they undertook fish habitat restoration works in 5 states such as resnagging, revegetation and clean-ups as well as habitat mapping and monitoring.
  • Most importantly, left a legacy of improved capacity of recreational fishers to contribute to the management of fish habitat throughout Australia.

Who was involved?
The project was a massive effort on behalf of the recreational fishing community to do things that would both improve fish habitat and enhance fishers’ capacity to take on this work. This report documents these activities and the outcomes for fishers and for fish that have been achieved.

OzFish Unlimited coordinated the project on behalf of the Fish Habitat Network, a group of like-minded organisations from government and non-government sectors.

The project was funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), on behalf of the Australian Government. Additional financial support was provided by The Nature Conservancy and Recfishwest. Valuable in-kind contributions were provided by Amateur Fisherman’s Association of the Northern Territory, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Healthy Land and Water (formerly SEQ catchments), NSW DPI Fisheries, VR Fish, Arthur Rylah Institute, Victorian Fisheries Authority, Recfish SA and Primary Industry and Regions SA. The contributions provided by these organisations were enhanced by the thousands of hours of work contributed by individual recreational fishers.

Through this shared effort a lot more recreational fishers were able to be engaged with a common message about the status of fish habitat and the role that they can play in its management.

What we learnt and how we can build on the project
It is especially important to involve fishers directly in sharing information, both at a local level and as ambassadors, and to provide opportunities for fishers to talk with, learn from and work with each other. Partnerships build partnerships and we found as more fishers got involved, more wanted to be involved. However, follow-up is an essential aspect of the capacity building process so that the good work on engagement builds into sustained capacity to deliver local habitat improvements.

While this project has been successful there are over 4 million recreational fishers and we need to continue to expand this work to enhance recreational fishers’ involvement in fish habitat management. While successful engagement initiatives have to be continued, the use of social media needs to be improved particularly using our newly established habitat engaged fishers to communicate with other recreational fishers. The development of the National Fish Habitat Strategy is an essential platform to sustain these efforts and work needs to occur to ensure its widespread adoption and underpinning of the actions it recommends.

Finally, despite efforts by OzFish and FHN partners, the efforts by recreational fishers in improving habitat are still not well known among the broader community and efforts to promote or recognise the great efforts by volunteer recreational fishers should also be a priority.


1. Deliver activities that increase the capability of recreational fishers to define, participate, and lead activities that improve fish habitat outcomes.

2. Enhance awareness and understanding within the recreational fishing community of the primary role habitat plays in sustaining and improving fisheries

3. Prepare the recreational fishing sector’s framework and contribution to a National Fish Habitat Strategy and Action Plan