Tactical Research Fund: understanding and quantifying community attitudes to a recreational fishing licence in South Australia

Project Number:



South Australian Recreational Fishing Advisory Council Inc (SARFAC)

Principal Investigator:

Christopher Deane

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:




Future development of recreational fishing in South Australia - 2012-303-DLD

Final Report
Date Published:September 2017

Principle investigator: Dr Jacki Schirmer

Keywords: Recreational fishing, social benefits, values, investment priorities, South Australia, fishing licence.

This report documents results of a quantitative survey of South Australian recreational fishers that examined priorities for the future development of recreational fishing in South Australia (SA), and attitudes towards the introduction of a recreational fishing licence in SA. The survey was undertaken in 2014 by researchers from the University of Canberra.
This study was undertaken due to an identified need to better understand priorities for the future development of recreational fishing in SA, and how SA recreational fishers view the idea of a fishing licence. This need was identified by RecFish SA, who applied to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation for funding to conduct the study, and contracted the University of Canberra to undertake the research.
The key objectives were to understand the motivations, benefits and outcomes desired by South Australian recreational fishers from recreational fishing; to identify recreational fishing development priorities in SA; to understand and quantify attitudes of recreational fishers to a recreational fishing licence (licence) in SA; and to identify how different licence designs may affect social acceptability of a licence.
Data were collected via a quantitative survey of South Australian recreational fishers. The questionnaire was developed in consultation with both RecFish SA and other recreational fishing organisations, and tested with recreational fishers before being launched. Small changes were made after launch to (i) better explain the role of RecFish SA in the survey, and (ii) provide an additional question that allowed open-ended feedback about views regarding a recreational fishing licence. Data were collected during September and October 2014.
Survey participants were recruited by randomly selecting 5,000 SA residents from a database of household addresses, stratified by location. The survey was also promoted online and by email. A prize draw was offered. The survey could be completed online or on paper. A total of 545 responses were achieved as a result of mailings sent to the randomly selected sample (a 10.9% response rate). A further 310 responses were achieved via promotion on fishing websites and by recreational fishing clubs and organisations. Of the 855 respondents, 206 were non-fishers of which the large majority (>90%) had no views about recreational fishing. Twenty five non-respondents were contacted to ask why they did not complete the survey: all but one stated they were not recreational fishers and had no interest in the survey topic. This suggests that there was a high response from those who did have an interest in recreational fishing, and that these people were principally fishers. The characteristics of the sample achieved were compared to known characteristics of SA recreational fishers, using data from the 2013-14 South Australian recreational fishing survey. A response bias to more avid and older fishers was identified. To address these biases, the dataset was weighted so that analysed data more accurately represented the population it was drawn from.
Values and benefits of recreational fishing
Understanding how people choose to fish, and what values and benefits they associate with fishing, can help guide the prioritisation of investment in recreational fishing. The large majority of SA fishers engage in saltwater fishing, with 93% doing this occasionally or regularly, compared to 59% who fish in freshwater. Around 80% of fishers engaged in jetty/breakwater and shore fishing, and 61% in boat-based fishing. Fewer engaged in charter fishing (31%) or in kayak/canoe based fishing (16%). Most fishers do more than one of these things. Line fishing was the most common method of fishing, used by 97% of fishers. Crab raking and netting was used by 52%, cockling or pipi gathering by 33%, yabby/marron netting by 29%, dabbing by 20%, while 7% or less engaged in spear fishing, lobster potting/netting or diving. Men and more avid fishers (those who fished more days per year) were more likely to engage in all types of fishing.
Fishers most commonly reported fishing in the Fleurieu Peninsula and Coorong (including Kangaroo Island, Lower Yorke Peninsula, the metropolitan coast around Adelaide, and the River Murray and lower lakes regions). Women, younger fishers and less avid fishers were less likely to fish in multiple locations than men, older fishers and more avid fishers.
King George Whiting was the species most commonly targeted by fishers, with 82% reporting they occasionally or regularly target this species. More than 60% targeted Southern Calamari species, Australian Herring and Southern Garfish. Many – between 57% and 59% - targeted Blue Swimmer Crab, Snapper and Australian Salmon. Fewer (less than 40%) targeted Mulloway, Golden Perch, Trout species, or Tuna species1. Women, younger fishers and less avid fishers typically targeted fewer species than men, older fishers, and avid fishers.
When asked to rate the importance of different aspects of fishing, spending time in the outdoors was very important to 77% of fishers, followed by going fishing to relax or unwind (67%), eating catch (64%), and spending time with family and friends (56% and 54% respectively). Other values were less common: 32% or fewer fishers said it was very important to go fishing to be on their own or get away from people, to pass on knowledge about fishing, to fish for catch and release, continue a family tradition of fishing, or to participate in fishing competitions. For those aged over 60, the most highly rated aspect of fishing was eating their catch, whereas for other age groups other aspects of fishing were as or more important as eating catch.
Most fishers were somewhat to very satisfied with their fishing during the 12 months prior to completing the survey. Those who were younger and who fished regularly were more satisfied than other fishers. More than 70% of fishers reported that fishing made them feel content, less stressed, provided an enjoyable challenge, and enabled them to connect to special places. Others felt happier (63%), a sense of achievement (61%), valued spending time with family and friends (60%), learned new things (60%), felt fishing increased their physical exercise (55%), felt better able to handle unexpected situations (50%) and/or experienced increased confidence (45%). Fewer (36%) reported that fishing had helped them form new friendships. Most recreational fishers do not rely on fishing as the primary source of seafood/fish for consumption.
Investment priorities
To help identify priorities for recreational fishing investment, fishers were asked their views on current recreational fishing opportunities, access to fishing infrastructure, and priorities for investment. Most fishers (75%) were satisfied with bag limits, and availability of accessible fishing areas (54%). Just under half were satisfied with the availability of species they targeted, stock allocation to recreational fishing, use of artificial reefs, quality of fish habitat and investment in saltwater fish habitats. Dissatisfaction was greatest with access to and stocking of reservoirs, allocation processes, and current investment in freshwater fish habitat.
When asked about infrastructure, fishers were most satisfied with their access to and the safety of jetties, wharves, boat ramps and rockwalls/breakwaters; and least satisfied with their access to and the safety of toilets at fishing locations, and their access to fish cleaning benches. People who fished in reservoirs, and in locations in the Copper Coast and Upper Spencer Gulf were least satisfied with the available recreational fishing infrastructure. Those who fished in the Lower Yorke Peninsula, South East, and in freshwater fishing areas other than reservoirs were most satisfied.
The areas of potential fishing investment considered most important by recreational fishers were improving sustainability, and creating and improving saltwater and freshwater fish habitats (rated very important by 75% and 74% of fishers respectively). Research into recreational fishing, improving information, training and education, and increasing fish stocking, were considered very important by 59% to 62% of fishers. Fewer rated educating adult fishers, measuring the contribution of recreational fishing, or improving policing and compliance, as very important (55%). Less than half felt it was very important to improve access to fishing locations, buy out commercial fishing licences, or improve advocacy by recreational fishing organisations.
Recreational fishing management, policing and representative organisations
Fishers were asked their views about the effectiveness of current recreational fisheries management and policing (including confidence it would result in continuing access to desired fish species and fishing locations), and recreational fishing representative organisations. One-third of respondents were confident they would have access to their desired species and fishing areas in the future. When asked about Marine Parks, 44% felt that Marine Parks benefit recreational fishing, and 28% that they had negative impacts. Men, older fishers and more avid fishers were less likely than women, younger fishers and those who fished less often to feel confident in their future access to fishing areas and species, and more likely to feel Marine Parks had negative impacts.
Most fishers were satisfied with the availability of information, advice, education and training about recreational fishing. Around one-third were satisfied with the policing of recreational fishing and management of saltwater fishing. Around half were dissatisfied with management of freshwater fishing, management of interactions between recreational and commercial fishers, and government decisions regarding Marine Parks. Men and more avid fishers were less satisfied with all aspects of recreational fisheries management compared to women and less avid fishers. Younger fishers were more satisfied than older fishers with freshwater fisheries management, government decisions about Marine Parks, but less satisfied with levels of policing, research, education and advice. Fifty two percent of fishers felt there was too little policing of recreational fishing, and only 12% felt there was too much policing. Younger and more avid fishers were more likely to feel there was inadequate policing of fishing compared to other fishers.
Only 41% of fishers knew how to contact recreational fishing representative organisations, and only 8% had done so. Many (44%) didn’t know enough to rate their satisfaction with these organisations, while 34% were neither satisfied or dissatisfied, 15% were satisfied, and 7% were dissatisfied.
Views about a recreational fishing licence
Recreational fishing licences are often used to raise funds for investing in recreational fishing. Twenty nine per cent of South Australian recreational fishers reported having previously purchased a fishing licence or permit in other states. Men, older fishers, and more avid fishers, as well as those earning higher incomes, were more likely than others to have purchased a fishing licence or permit in the past.
Fishers were asked their views about the introduction of a recreational fishing licence in South Australia which had the following conditions: (i) all funds to be placed in a trust managed by an independently appointed board that includes recreational fishers, (ii) all funds to be invested in improving recreational fishing in SA, and (iii) children under 18 and pensioners to be either exempt from the licence or asked to pay a substantially reduced fee. Forty five per cent of fishers found a $30 annual licence with these conditions acceptable, 50% unacceptable, and 6% found it neither acceptable or unacceptable. Only 28% would find a $40 licence acceptable, and 19% would find a $50 licence acceptable. Licences were considered more acceptable by women, those aged 30 to 44 years, avid fishers, those with higher incomes, who were married, and who had higher levels of formal educational attainment. Fishers who had previously bought a fishing licence, and who had a history of contact with fishing organisations, were more likely to find a licence acceptable, while those who were dissatisfied with recreational fishing organisations were less likely to.
Forty per cent of fishers felt they would reduce or stop fishing in SA if a $30 annual licence was introduced, while 59% would fish the same amount or more often. Those most likely to feel they would reduce their fishing were younger fishers, men, single fishers, less avid fishers, those on lower incomes, and those who did not complete high school. Avid fishers, those earning high incomes, those who had completed a degree, and female fishers were less likely to feel a licence would change how often they fish.
Thirty nine per cent of fishers felt they would support a licence with the specified conditions, 14% would prefer different conditions, and 46% found the idea of a licence unacceptable under any conditions.
Specific licence conditions desired by fishers included a guarantee that all funds would be invested in recreational fishing; independence governance of distribution of licence revenues by a Board with good representation of all recreational fishers; and ensuring that pensioners, seniors and children were exempt from licence fees. Several also wanted licences to have multiple purchase options.
The results of this survey suggest some clear priorities for investment in recreational fishing in South Australia. These range from the specific – for example, a need to work to improve availability of fish cleaning benches and toilets near commonly used fishing locations – to the general, such as a widely held desire to prioritise improvement of fish habitat. Investments should focus on enabling fishers to achieve the full range of benefits they desire from fishing, specifically the ability to relax and unwind, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy being outdoors, as well as to catch fish.
The introduction of a fishing licence in SA would be controversial for many fishers. It has potential to be acceptable if a number of conditions are met, and fishers trust that they are met. The results of the survey suggest that a fishing licence would only be accepted by a majority of fishers if (i) fishers felt it was affordable (annual cost of $30 or lower); (ii) licences were flexible and easy to purchase (ideally, licences available both online and from multiple locations near fishing areas, and more than one licence option to improve affordability); (iii) those with lower ability to pay were exempted from paying for a licence or charged a substantially reduced fee (pensioners and children in particular); (iv) there was confidence that fees would be used to invest in improving recreational fishing and not for other purposes; and (v) there was confidence in the people appointed to oversee investment of funds from the licence. In particular, avid fishers, although more likely to support a licence than those who fish less often, are unlikely to accept a licence unless it is governed by a Board that has representation that goes beyond current recreational fishing organisations.
Recommendation 1: Set clear objectives to guide development of recreational fishing in SA. This survey identified multiple potential priorities for investment in recreational fishing. There is a need for a dialogue involving consultation with all recreational fishers, which can better identify shared objectives for investment in the future development of recreational fishing.
Recommendation 2: Ensure adequate consultation processes are used to guide investment. Low levels of engagement with recreational fishing organisations mean that the views of many recreational fishers are not necessarily heard. Based on the results of this survey, recreational fishing organisations are most likely to hear the views of avid fishers, older fishers and male fishers. This means the large majority of fishers who fish less often, as well as views of younger and female fishers, will not be heard unless there is ongoing investment in consultation processes that better incorporate their views.
Recommendation 3: Consider use of a fishing licence if it is designed appropriately, and includes clear processes for appointing and maintaining independence of governance and distribution of funds. There is a need for extensive consultation to build confidence amongst fishers, with many lacking trust in the likely use of licence funds or in likely oversight. This trust can be built through appropriate consultation and discussion with fishers.


1. Understand and quantify attitudes of recreational fishers to a Recreational Fishing Licence (RFL) in South Australia

2. Identify how willingness of recreational fishers to accept an RFL varies depending on factors such as cost, accessibility, and how funds are used

3. Identify optimal design of an RFL to maximise recreational fisher acceptance of introduction of a licence